Syrian government frees over 670 prisoners before Eid

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.

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