Beirut: Lebanese officials and Syrian activists say authorities in Damascus have given in to a rebel demand and released several women prisoners.
The release is expected to set the stage for the freeing of several Lebanese Shiites held by Syrian rebels since May 2012.
Lebanese security officials say the Syrian women were released on Thursday. The officials spoke on Friday on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 women were released. There was no confirmation from Damascus. It was unclear when or why the women were detained.
Lebanese officials have been shuttling between Syria and Turkey to try to mediate the Shiites’ release.
In January, rebels freed 48 Iranians in exchange for more than 2,000 prisoners held by Syrian authorities.
Meanwhile, 12 members of a Syrian pro-regime militia were killed in clashes with rebels overnight in the central city of Homs, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.
The deaths came as regime forces pushed forwards with an offensive intended to recapture several rebel-held districts of the city, the group said.
“Twelve members of the pro-regime People’s Committees were killed... during fighting with rebel forces on the outskirts of the Khaldiyeh neighbourhood,” the group said.
The rebel-held district is one of several that regime forces have laid siege to for more than a year.
The regime has increasingly used militia groups to bolster its regular forces in battles against rebel fighters seeking to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The Observatory, which relies on a network of activists, doctors and lawyers on the ground, said regime troops were continuing to shell the neighbourhood on Friday.
At least 135 people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, the group said.