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Syria could be willing to consider prisoner swap with rebels

The Syrian government signalled on Monday it was ready to agree prisoner swaps with rebel groups, a confidence-building measure that might help both sides prepare to attend peace talks.

Rebel groups yet to comment on latest government statement, with talks set in coming days

In this photo released on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, President Bashar al-Assad meets in Damascus with former hostages released in an prisoner exchange with rebels. (SANA via The Associated Press)

The Syrian government signalled on Monday it was ready to agree prisoner swaps with rebel groups, a confidence-building measure that might help both sides prepare to attend peace talks.

Syrian state media said the government was "always ready" to exchange prisoners in its jails for people "kidnapped by terrorist groups," "particularly in the framework of efforts being made for the coming meeting in Astana."

There was no immediate reaction from rebel groups, which have long demanded a prisoner release from the government as one of a number of humanitarian measures they say it must take ahead of any peace talks.

Kazakhstan's foreign ministry said on Saturday that Syrian government and rebel delegations were invited to attend meetings on the Syria crisis in its capital, Astana, on Feb. 15-16.

Separately, UN-backed peace talks are due to start in Geneva on Feb. 20. The main Syrian opposition body on Sunday approved its delegation to the talks.

This month, in a rare move, the Syrian government and rebel groups swapped dozens of women prisoners and hostages, some of them with their children, in Hama province in northwestern Syria.

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