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Syrians release 13 female detainees

Move may be part of big swap

BEIRUT — The Syrian government released 13 female detainees, an official and an activist group said Wednesday, in a move that appeared to be part of an ambitious regional prisoner exchange.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the women walked out of the headquarters of the Damascus provincial government Tuesday morning, but it hasn’t been able to contact them. A Syrian government official confirmed the women’s release, but declined to provide further details. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief the media.

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It was not clear whether the women were part of a complicated hostage swap last week brokered by Qatar and the Palestinian Authority that saw Syrian rebels release nine Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims, while Lebanese gunmen simultaneously freed two Turkish pilots.

Lebanese officials have said a third part of the deal called for the Syrian government to free a number of women detainees to meet the rebels’ demands.

The agreement illustrated how far Syria’s civil war, now in its third year, has spilled across the greater Middle East. It also appeared to represent one of the more ambitious negotiated settlements to come out of the war, in which the rival factions remain largely opposed to any bartered peace.

Syria’s crisis began in March 2011 with largely peaceful protests against President Bashar Assad, and slowly turned into an insurgency and then a full-blown civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, while another 2 million have sought refuge from the violence abroad.

The fighting also has destroyed cities and shattered much of its economy, including its infrastructure.

Syria’s state news agency said a blackout hit much of the country following an attack late Wednesday that damaged the gas pipeline supplying power stations in the nation’s south.

SANA quoted Electricity Minister Imad Khamis as saying maintenance crews were working to restore power. The minister blamed the attack on ‘‘terrorists,’’ a term the government uses to refer to those trying to topple Assad.

It was not immediately clear how extensive Wednesday’s blackout was.

Damascus and southern Syria have been struck by several major power outages over the course of the country’s civil war. Many rebel-held parts of the country have been without power for months.

North of Damascus, rebels and government forces clashed for the third consecutive day Wednesday in the Christian town of Sadad, forcing residents to flee.

The Observatory said fighters from the two Al Qaeda-linked groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, captured a checkpoint that gave them control of the western part of the town. It said frightened residents were heading north to the central city of Homs some 35 miles away.

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