Syria government releases US citizen

Russia played a role in the release of an American citizen held by Syrian authorities and the United States has had “periodic contact” with the Syrian government, the US State Department says.

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In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Russian military had taken a US citizen from Syria to Moscow, after President Barack Obama personally asked President Vladimir Putin to help search for Americans in Syria.

The man was handed over to the US embassy in Moscow and has now left Russia, the ministry said on Friday.

The Washington Post, citing two US officials, reported that Syria’s government had released Kevin Dawes, who was abducted after travelling to Syria in 2012.

Dawes, described by the newspaper as a freelance photographer, was recently allowed to call family and receive care packages, signalling to officials that the Syrian government was moving toward his release, the Post reported.

US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the person was freed several days ago and had left Syria but did not identify the individual.

“We are appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian government that it undertook on behalf of this US citizen in Syria,” Toner told a news briefing.

Toner did not elaborate on Moscow’s involvement.

Toner said US authorities have been in touch with Syrian officials, an instance of rare cooperation between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

“We have also been in direct periodic contact with the Syrian government regarding consular issues in general and American citizens detained in Syria,” Toner said.

The United States has called repeatedly for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down since Syria’s civil war broke out in 2011.

The Washington Post said Dawes’ release was seen as a positive sign for American reporter Austin Tice, who also went missing in Syria in 2012.

The State Department is continuing to work through Czech officials in Syria to get information on Tice as well as on other US citizens missing in Syria.