Two Russian hostages, one Italian freed in Syria: Moscow

MOSCOW Mon Feb 4, 2013 4:52am EST

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Two Russians and an Italian have been freed in Syria in exchange for three captured rebels after being held hostage for nearly two months, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

The ministry said Viktor Gorelov, Abdessattar Hassun and Mario Belluomo, who were taken hostage by rebel forces on December 12, had been released on Sunday and were in good health.

"The Russians have already been brought to the Russian embassy in Damascus," the ministry statement said in a statement on its website. "An Italian citizen who was kidnapped with them, M. Belluomo, will be handed over to the Italian authorities through the Syrian Foreign Ministry."

It said the three had been seized by rebels on the way to the Syrian port of Tartus from the city of Homs.

Italian media have said that Belluomo, who was 63 when kidnapped, had been working in Syria as an engineer at a steel plant near the port city of Latakia.

The Russian Foreign Ministry did not say what the two Russians had been doing in Syria, but Russia media have suggested they also worked at the steel plant.

Russia is Syria's main arms supplier and has long been an ally of President Bashar al-Assad.

Moscow has blocked three U.N. Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad. It says his departure must not be a precondition for a negotiated settlement of the 22-month-old conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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