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Syria releases dozens of female prisoners in hostage swap

Syrian authorities have released dozens of female prisoners in the final stage of a hostage swap. Meanwhile, power has been restored to much of Damascus after an attack on a gas pipeline caused a widespread outages.

At least 48 women were released from prison in Syria on Thursday. The London-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, reported the development came as the final stage of an agreement brokered by Qatar and Turkey.

There was no immediate comment available from Syrian authorities.

The release of the female prisoners was part of a complicated, interregional prisoner swap last week between a rebel group in northern Syria, Turkish and Lebanese officials.

The first stage of the agreement took place late last week when a rebel group in northern Syria released nine Lebanese hostages. The men - all Shiites - were kidnapped 18 months ago on their return from a pilgrimage to Iran.

In return, a Lebanese group calling itself Zuwwar Imam al-Rida handed over two Turkish pilots over the weekend. The relatively unknown group had kidnapped the men in August as they were travelling on board a bus with fellow crew members from Beirut's international airport to their hotel. The Lebanese group abducted the Turkish men to use as leverage with the Syrian rebels who had been holding the Lebanese pilgrims.

Given the success of the first two stages, Syrian authorities initially freed 128 female prisoners and then an additional 48 on Thursday.

The complicated nature of Thursday's agreement reflects the influence of the Syrian civil war on the security neighboring countries. Not only has the fighting driven over two million refugees across its borders, but it has also stirred deep-seated sectarian tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

Power gradually restored

Meanwhile on Thursday, Syria's electricity minister said officials were able to restore power to some areas of the country.

"Power is being gradually restored in some provinces after the securing of an alternative source of fuel," Electricity minister Imad Khamis told the SANA news agency.

Widespread power outages occurred on Wednesday night after a gas pipeline near Damascus' airport exploded. The Syrian government attributed the blast to an attack by Syrian opposition fighters.

"Work is under way to restore the damage caused by a terrorist attack against a pipeline and power should be fully restored within 48 hours," he added.

The extent of the blackout across Syria could not be immediately confirmed.

kms/pfd (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)