Reuters journalists freed in Syria

BEIRUT Mon Mar 28, 2011 3:49pm BST

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BEIRUT (Reuters) - Two Reuters journalists were released by Syrian authorities on Monday, two days after they were detained in Damascus.

Television producer Ayat Basma and cameraman Ezzat Baltaji returned to their home base in Lebanon and said they were well.

"Reuters is concerned that its journalists were detained and held incommunicado for so long. We are delighted by their release and look forward to welcoming Ayat and Ezzat back," Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen Adler said.

"We would like to thank everyone who helped us resolve the issue."

Basma and Baltaji, both Beirut-based Lebanese nationals, travelled to neighbouring Syria on Thursday. Mass protests there over the last two weeks have posed the biggest challenge to President Bashar al-Assad's 11-year rule.

A Syrian official said the journalists were detained and questioned because they did not have a permit to work in Syria and had filmed "in an area where filming is not permitted."

They had last contacted colleagues on Saturday evening and their whereabouts had been unclear until shortly before they were released on Monday.

Basma, who has also reported from Tunisia, Egypt and Iraq, has been with Reuters since February 2007. Baltaji has worked for the company since April 2008.

On Friday Syrian authorities withdrew the accreditation of a Reuters foreign correspondent based in Damascus, saying he filed "unprofessional and false" coverage of events in Syria.

Reuters said it stood by its coverage.

(Editing by Alastair Macdonald)

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