Reuters International

MADRID (Reuters) - Three Spanish freelance journalists who went missing in Syria last year and were believed to have been kidnapped have been released, the Spanish government said on Saturday.

The three men - Antonio Pampliega, Jose Manuel Lopez and Angel Sastre - disappeared last July. They were working on an investigative report in the northern city of Aleppo, where other journalists have been captured in the past, Spanish media reported at the time.

Spain's acting deputy Prime Minister Soraya Saenz de Santamaria had made contact and spoken with the three, a government spokesman said. El Pais newspaper reported the men were now in Turkey and waiting to be brought back to Spain.

No details were immediately available on how the three were released, but Qatar said it had helped.

Qatar's state news agency said Assistant Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Martian had received a phone call from Spain's Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Ignacio Iapanaz Rebeo, in which he "thanked the State of Qatar for its efforts in the release of three Spanish prisoners who had been detained in Syria".

Some Spanish media, including El Pais, say the three were held by al Qaeda's Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, which is designated by the United Nations and the United States as a terrorist organisation.

Qatar has previously mediated the release of foreign hostages held by Nusra Front in Syria.

The journalists entered Syria from Turkey on July 10 and went missing shortly afterwards, Spanish press association FAPE said last year. Few details have since emerged regarding their situation.

(Reporting by Maria Vega Paul in Madrid and Omar Fahmy in Cairo Writing by Sarah White; Editing by Angus MacSwan and James Dalgleish)

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