German traveler released by Syrian authorities

BEIRUT Tue Mar 5, 2013 10:26am EST

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Makdad (R) hands over German journalist Billy Six (C) to Azamat Kulmuhametov, the Russian ambassador to Syria, during a news conference in Damascus March 5, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. REUTERS/SANA

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Makdad (R) hands over German journalist Billy Six (C) to Azamat Kulmuhametov, the Russian ambassador to Syria, during a news conference in Damascus March 5, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA.

Credit: Reuters/SANA

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - A 26-year-old German who was held by Syrian authorities for two and a half months after he entered the country through opposition-held territory was released on Tuesday, Syria's deputy foreign minister said.

Faisal Maqdad, standing next to the bearded, blond Billy Six, said on Syrian state TV that he would hand over the German to the Russian embassy. Germany closed its embassy in Syria last year after continuing violence.

Opposition activists said that Six had been captured by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad northeast of Hama city in December. He had been contributing pieces to Junge Freiheit, a small-circulation German right-wing weekly, and had also traveled to Libya and Egypt during uprisings in 2011.

"I wish health and wellness to Billy Six on behalf of the government of Syria ... and that he act like all journalists in covering events objectively," Maqdad said.

Bastian Behrens, press spokesman for Junge Freiheit, confirmed that Six had been set free and handed over to the Russian embassy in Damascus. He said in a statement that Six had reported for the paper from Syria since last August.

The paper's chief editor, Dieter Stein, said the Russians had worked hard to secure Six's release, adding: "We are greatly relieved that he is alive and safe."

Syria's 23-month-old revolt has turned into a civil war leaving 70,000 people dead, and much of the country is now in rebel hands. Damascus severely restricts access to media and journalists often enter via rebel-held border posts.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says Syria is the world's deadliest country for the press, with 28 journalists killed in 2012 and 21 abducted. Several foreign and Syrian journalists remain missing in the country.

(Reporting by Oliver Holmes in Beirut and Gareth Jones in Berlin; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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