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Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 2:26:04 AM
Friday March 14, 2014 MYT 2:27:08 AM
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Sunni Islamist rebels in Syria have claimed responsibility for kidnapping at least 94 women and children belonging to President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect, according to a video published on Thursday.
The civilians were abducted in August from villages in rural Latakia, the president's coastal stronghold. The rebels said they were holding the hostages to secure the release of opposition supporters from government detention.
Thousands of people are thought to be imprisoned by both sides in the increasingly sectarian civil war, which enters its fourth year this month.
The video, obtained by Qatari-owned television station Al Jazeera, said the rebels were ready to swap the civilians for 2,000 prisoners who have been detained for more than a year.
It stipulated that most of the freed prisoners be from coastal areas of the country and that half of them be women and children, Al Jazeera said.
In one scene, three women wearing headscarves and simple clothing address the camera. Another scene shows dozens of women and children standing outdoors in a walled-in area.
Reuters was not able to independently verify the video's authenticity or review it in its entirety. Al Jazeera did not identify the rebels, saying only they were groups from the armed Syrian opposition.
Syria's Sunni Muslim majority has largely joined the revolt against Assad, while minority sects have mostly stood behind him in a conflict that has killed more than 140,000 people.
Both sides in the civil war have targeted citizens and attracted foreign fighters and financial support from across the region.
A rare prisoner swap was achieved last week, securing the release of 13 Greek Orthodox nuns detained since December by fighters from the Nusra Front, al Qaeda's official affiliate in Syria. The government freed at least 25 prisoners in exchange.
Qatar, which owns Al Jazeera, said it had played a mediating role in securing the nuns' release, but Syria denied the allegation.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Alison Williams)
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