Official: Palestinian operatives helped free Syria hostages

AP News
Posted: Apr 26, 2015 3:21 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — A top Palestinian intelligence official provided first details Sunday of the release of two Swedish hostages held in Syria for 17 months, saying the captors drove them to a pre-arranged drop-off point, pushed them out of the car and sped off.

The abductors from the militant, al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria were not paid for the captives who were freed Friday, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the mission.

The official said Palestinian intelligence got involved after Swedish authorities asked Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for help in February. It was not clear why the Palestinians, who have largely stayed out of the Syria conflict, were sought out as mediators. The intelligence official did not explain how he was able to contact the abductors.

Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said Sunday that Abbas' involvement "has been crucial" and she also thanked Jordan for its help. Swedish authorities did not identify the hostages or provide other details, saying only that the two were reunited with their families.

The Palestinian intelligence official said the Swedes were taken hostage in Syria on Dec. 3, 2013, but did not say where they had been held.

In early April, Palestinian agents entered Syria and obtained mobile footage of the two hostages, showing the men in track suits, standing near trees, the intelligence official said.

The hostages were released Friday afternoon near the Jordanian border, the official said.

"We entered 500 meters (550 yards) into Syrian lands, covered by the Jordanians," the official said. "The abductors came in a car, pushed the two Swedes outside and left the area immediately. We took them across the Jordanian border to the Swedish Embassy in Amman.'"

The Jordanian government spokesman was not immediately available for comment.