Jun 24, 11:33 AM EDT

Syria releases hundreds of detainees ahead of Eid


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DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- The Syrian government released Saturday hundreds of detainees including some who backed the insurgency against President Bashar Assad on the eve of a major Muslim holiday.

Justice Minister Hisham al-Shaar told reporters that the 672 people released on Saturday included 91 women. He said of those released, 588 were freed in the capital Damascus, Assad's seat of power.

Al-Shaar added that the release came in a bid to "sustain national reconciliations efforts and the homeland's unity."

The release comes on the eve of Eid el-Fitr, the feast that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Syrian authorities usually release detainees on major holidays.

Tens of thousands of people have been detained since Syria's crisis began in March 2011. The conflict has killed some 400,000 people and displaced half the country's population.

Syrian government forces have been gaining ground around the country under the cover of Russian airstrikes and now control the five largest cities. The push has led to so-called reconciliations in areas around Syria in which opposition fighters either surrendered in exchange for amnesty or moved to rebel-held areas in northern Syria.

Among those released in Damascus was 45-year-old Abdul-al-Rahman Ali who used to finance opposition fighters.

"I was wrong and every person makes mistakes. I have repented and returned to embrace my homeland," he said.

A woman who identified herself as Um Akram wiped away her tears as she waited for her son who had been jailed for more than three years. "I am glad for the release of my son," she said as she stood with her husband outside the headquarters of Assad's ruling Baath party in Damascus where part of the release occurred.

The woman's husband stressed that his son is ready to join the military service.

Ibrahim Barakeh, 64, from al-Ghouta in the countryside of Damascus, said he has been in jail for 16 months on a change of funding terrorists. "Thank God for being released. I was wrong. I will try to return to al-Ghouta to join my wife and son," he added referring to a suburb of Damascus.

In northern Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces released some 200 IS members in Raqqa province at the request of tribal leaders in the region, according to the Britain-based opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said all those released in the town of Tabqa and the city of Raqqa and its suburbs had no blood on their hands and had jobs with IS such as preachers or employees in the extremist group civilian institutions.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been marching inside Raqqa since June 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, with the aim of liberating the Islamic State's de facto capital of the extremists.

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