Kidnapped Italian, two Russians freed in Syria: Moscow

Syrian "extremists" have released two Russians and an Italian citizen kidnapped on December 12 in the west of Syria, as part of an exchange for militants, the Russian foreign ministry said Monday.

The two Russians are already at the Russian embassy in Damascus while the Italian will be handed over to Italy's representatives through the Syrian foreign ministry, it said in a statement, without giving further details on the nature of the exchange.

"On February 3 the Russian citizens V.V. Gorelov and A. Khassun -- who had been abducted as hostages by Syrian extremists -- were released in exchange for militants."

"The Italian citizen M. Belluomo who was abducted with them will be handed over to Italian representatives through the Syrian foreign ministry," it added, giving the Italian's name in Russian.

The statement said Russia had engaged in "intensive contacts" with Syrian government representatives as well as "different opposition forces in Syria and outside" to obtain their release.

The men -- believed to be engineers working for a Syrian steel firm -- were grabbed while travelling on a road connecting the the war-torn city of Homs to the port of Tartus.

Russia has earned the ire of the Syrian opposition for shielding President Bashar al-Assad from UN sanctions aimed at punishing him for his use of heavy force against the armed resistance.