Damascus ready for prisoner swap

Damascus - Syria's regime is ready to release detainees in exchange for hostages held by rebels, the official SANA news agency reported on Monday, ahead of peace talks in the Kazakh capital.

"The government is ready... as part of efforts towards the next meeting in Astana to exchange detainees for men, women and children - civilians and soldiers - kidnapped by terrorists," SANA said, referring to the rebels.

Kazakhstan has invited Syrian rebels and government officials to peace talks on Wednesday and Thursday in Astana, after a first round last month organised by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel ally Turkey.

The Syrian government's position comes after the "success... of the Syrian state in freeing numerous civilians and soldiers kidnapped by terrorist groups", the agency cited an official source as saying.

On Wednesday, the authorities handed over 55 detainees - who were mostly women and included eight children - in exchange for the release of 57 civilians including 19 children from the coastal city of Latakia who had been held by the rebels since 2013.

Official media broadcast images of President Bashar Assad and his wife Asma receiving the former hostages.

The announcement of the prisoner swap came after Assad dismissed a report released last week by Amnesty International accusing the Syrian authorities of hanging up to 13 000 people over five years in a government prison.

The Astana talks are to be followed by a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva on February 20.

Syria's war has killed more than 310 000 people since it erupted in 2011 with anti-government protests.

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