State Department: Syrian government releases US citizen, Russia helped

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American Missing in Syria Since 2012 Is Finally Free

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Russia played a role in the release of an American citizen held by Syrian authorities and the United States has had "periodic contact" with the Syrian government, the U.S. State Department said on Friday.

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In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the Russian military had taken a U.S. citizen from Syria to Moscow, after President Barack Obama personally asked President Vladimir Putin to help search for Americans in Syria. The man was handed over to the U.S. embassy in Moscow and has now left Russia, the ministry said on Friday.

The Washington Post, citing two U.S. officials, reported that Syria's government had released Kevin Dawes, who was abducted after traveling to Syria in 2012.

Dawes, described by the newspaper as a freelance photographer, was recently allowed to call family and receive care packages, signaling to officials that the Syrian government was moving toward his release, the Post reported.

U.S. State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the person was freed several days ago and had left Syria but did not identify the individual.

"We are appreciative of efforts on the part of the Russian government that it undertook on behalf of this U.S. citizen in Syria," Toner told a news briefing.

Toner did not elaborate on Moscow's involvement.

Toner said U.S. authorities have been in touch with Syrian officials, an instance of rare cooperation between the two countries, which do not have diplomatic relations.

"We have also been in direct periodic contact with the Syrian government regarding consular issues in general and American citizens detained in Syria," Toner said.

The United States has called repeatedly for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down since Syria's civil war broke out in 2011.

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The Washington Post said Dawes' release was seen as a positive sign for American reporter Austin Tice, who also went missing in Syria in 2012.

The State Department is continuing to work through Czech officials in Syria to get information on Tice as well as on other U.S. citizens missing in Syria.

Tice's family declined to comment.

See images of Russian airstrikes in Syria:

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State Department: Syrian government releases US citizen, Russia helped
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: A Syrian man runs past the rubble of a building destroyed in the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Beha el Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians search for survivors in the rubble of buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians evacuate people from damaged buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - NOVEMBER 03: Syrians evacuate people from damaged buildings following the Russian airstrikes on the opposition-controlled Mashhad neighborhood of Aleppo, Syria on November 03, 2015. (Photo by Ibrahim Ebu Leys/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
ALEPPO, SYRIA - OCTOBER 17: Smoke rises from an opposition-controlled residential area in Aleppo, Syria following the Russian airstrikes on October 17, 2015. (Photo by Beha El-Halebi/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Russian President Vladimir Putin gives a speech during a weekly meeting with ministers of the Russian Government in Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence September 30, 2015 outside Moscow, Russia. Vladimir Putin has received permission from Parliament for Russian military forces to launch airstrikes in Syria, two days after the Russian leader spoke to the UN and called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
MOSCOW, RUSSIA - SEPTEMBER 30: Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives to a weekly meeting with ministers of the Russian Government in Novo-Ogaryovo State Residence September 30, 2015 outside Moscow, Russia. Vladimir Putin has received permission from Parliament for Russian military forces to launch airstrikes in Syria, two days after the Russian leader spoke to the UN and called for an international coalition against terrorism to fight Islamic State (ISIS). (Photo by Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images)
A picture taken on September 30, 2015 shows damaged buildings and a minaret in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province. Russian warplanes carried out air strikes in three Syrian provinces, including Homs, along with regime aircraft on September 30, according to a Syrian security source. Earlier in the day, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor, reported at least 27 civilians had been killed in air strikes in the Homs province, adding that the strikes hit Rastan, Talbisseh and Zaafarani. The other Syrian security source said the Russian strikes had hit Rastan and Talbisseh in the province of Homs. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD TAHA (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images)
A picture taken on September 30, 2015 shows a general view of deserted streets and damaged buildings in the central Syrian town of Talbisseh in the Homs province. Russia confirmed on Septemer 30 that it carried out its first airstrike in Syria, near the city of Homs, marking the formal start of Moscow's military intervention in the 4.5-year-old conflict. AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD TAHA (Photo credit should read MAHMOUD TAHA/AFP/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - OCTOBER 01: A damaged vehicle is seen at the site of the alleged Russian airstrikes targeting the training camp of Suqour al-Jabal Brigades in Kafr Nabl town of Idlib, Syria on October 01, 2015. (Photo by Firas Khalife/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
IDLIB, SYRIA - OCTOBER 01: The training camp of Suqour al-Jabal Brigades is destroyed in the alleged Russian airstrikes in Kafr Nabl town of Idlib, Syria on October 01, 2015. (Photo by Firas Khalife/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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