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October 24, 2013

Activists: Syria Releases 61 Female Detainees



Activists say Syria has freed 61 female prisoners, part of a swap that involved the release of nine Shi'ite Lebanese men abducted by Syrian rebels and two Turkish pilots snatched in Lebanon.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that at least 67 more prisoners are expected to be released as part of the complex deal brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority.

A Lebanese Shi'ite group in Beirut abducted the two Turkish Airlines pilots, whose country has supported the rebels, in August as bargaining chips to try to secure the release of the nine Lebanese men.

Syrian officials did not immediately comment on the deal.



Earlier, the mission overseeing the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons program said the government was expected on Thursday to turn over the initial blueprints of a plan for destroying its existing stockpile.

It is not clear the handover actually took place.

The destruction is the final phase of an agreement with the United Nations and the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to rid Syria of chemical arms by the middle of next year. Syria has until Sunday to present the full plan.

OPCW inspectors have been to most of the production sites disclosed by Syria, where crews are rendering the equipment inoperable. The group expressed confidence Syria's capability to make any new weapons will be destroyed by a deadline set for November 1.

Meanwhile, Syrian officials say power is being restored after much of the country lost electricity late Wednesday following an explosion near the international airport.

Minister of Electricity Imad Khamis said he expected power to return to all areas within 48 hours. The state news agency SANA quoted him blaming the outage on a "terrorist" attack on gas pipelines that feed electricity generating stations.

Also Thursday, a video message purporting to show a Russian man abducted in Syria set a deadline of five days for the release of a detained Saudi national in exchange for his freedom.

The footage posted on YouTube showed a bearded man who identified himself as Sergei Gorbunov reading a statement saying he would be killed unless he could be swapped for Khaled Suleiman, a Saudi he said had been detained in the city of Hama.