BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian government has released 13 jailed women, a rights group said on Wednesday — a move that is likely part of an ambitious regional prisoner exchange.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the women were released Tuesday morning from the headquarters of the Damascus provincial government, but said they had not been able to contact the women. The Observatory relies on a network of activists on ground for its information.
The women may have been released as part of a three-way exchange that began on Oct. 18. It saw Syrian rebels release nine Lebanese men held for a year and a half. Lebanese gunmen simultaneously released two Turkish pilots held since August.
Lebanese officials had said a number of imprisoned Syrian women were meant to be released to meet the demands of the Syrian rebels. They were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
It's unclear how many women are held by Syria's government, nor how usual it is for 13 to be released simultaneously. Syrian government officials would not comment.
The deal underscored the extent of how far Syria's civil war, now in its third year, has spilled across the greater Middle East. It appeared to represent one of the more ambitious negotiated settlements to come out of the war, in which the rival factions remain largely opposed to any bartered peace.
The toll of the Syrian war has been crushing. Almost a third of the population has fled its homes to escape violence or the resulting economic hardships. Of a pre-war population of 23 million people, at least 2 million Syrians have fled abroad, becoming refugees. Another 4.6 million are internally displaced within Syria. Around 100,000 people have been killed, the economy is in tatters, and the country's delicate community fabric woven of different religious sects has been destroyed.
Even fleeing is no guarantee of safety. The Observatory reported Wednesday that a Syrian woman trying to escape to neighboring Jordan was raped and killed, along with her daughters aged one and three, allegedly by the man who was supposed to take her across the border. The Observatory said the incident occurred in the Zizon valley on the Jordanian-Syria border on Monday.
The man also stole all her cash: $87. Syrian residents found the bodies days later. The Observatory said Syrian rebels captured and killed a suspect who they said confessed to the crime.