Syria frees Turkish journalists after Iranian mediation

Two Turkish journalists who were held in Syria for two months have been freed thanks to Iranian mediation. Meanwhile a little-known militant group has said it was behind twin-bombings in Damascus, which killed 55 people.

Syria released two Turkish journalists on Saturday who were captured two months ago while reporting on the country's 14-month uprising. Their release was brokered with the help of Iran, Turkey's Anatolia news agency reported.

Reporter Adem Ozkose, 31, and cameraman Hamit Coskun, 21, have now been flown to Iran's capital Tehran where they are said to be in good health. They are expected to fly on to Turkey on Sunday at the latest.

The pair were last seen on March 9 near the rebel stronghold of Idlib, in northwest Syria. They had reportedly snuck across the border from Turkey to film a documentary on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown on dissent.

Anatolia quoted witnesses as saying the two journalists, who were working for a small-circulation Islamist newspaper, Milat, were arrested by government forces and handed over to Syrian intelligence.

Related Subjects

Turkish Prime Minister and former ally of Assad, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had previously appealed for their release. He had described them as being "practically prisoners of war" and warned that Syria would have to answer for them.

While Turkey's relationship with Damascus has suffered since the regime crackdown began last March, Iran is one of its few remaining allies in the region. The release of the pair following Iranian mediation is a key indicator of the country's influence over Syria.

Islamist group claims bomb attacks

Violence rages on in Syria where the United Nations claims some 9,000 people have been killed. The most deadly attack to take place in the country since the conflict erupted came on Thursday when at least 55 people were killed in twin bomb attacks in the capital Damascus. A further 372 people were injured in what the government said were suicide bombings.

The Syrian regime and rebel groups have blamed each other for Thursday's attack

Responsibility for the attack was claimed by a little known militant group in a video posted online late on Friday.

A narrator in the video, whose voice was distorted to hide his identity, said the Islamist group Al-Nusra Front had carried out the attacks in response to regime onslaughts on residential areas.

"We fulfilled our promise to respond with strikes and explosions," the voice said.

There is, however, no decisive proof in the video to show the group had a hand in the operations. It showed no images of militants making or setting up the bomb and did not claim the attack as suicide bombings.

Little is known about the Al-Nusra Front, which has claimed past attacks through statements posted on militant websites. Western intelligence officials say, however, it could be a front for an al Qaeda branch operating in Iraq.

ccp/sej (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)