ANKARA, Sept 23, 2014 (AFP) - Turkey declined on Tuesday to either confirm or deny reports that dozens of Turkish hostages abducted by Islamic State (IS) insurgents in Iraq were set free in exchange for the release of IS militants held by Syrian rebels.
Citing security sources, the Hurriyet daily said that Syrian rebels released 50 members of IS, including the family of a key radical leader, in exchange for the release of Turkish hostages.
"We neither confirm nor deny a swap deal," a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The official declined to comment on the details of the top-secret operation which was "entirely under the control of the National Intelligence Organisation" (MIT), Turkey's spy agency.
The 46 Turks including Turkey's consul, children and soldiers abducted by IS jihadists from Turkey's consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul returned home Saturday to nationwide jubilation after more than three months in captivity.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan described the operation as a "secret rescue operation" by the MIT. But officials have kept a strict silence on the details, saying only that no ransom was paid.
The family of IS leader Haji Bakr -- who was first reported killed in Aleppo in January after his group clashed with a unit of the Free Syrian Army -- were among those released by the Syrian rebels, Hurriyet said.
Liwa al-Tawhid, an armed Syrian insurgent rebel group that split from the rebel Free Syrian Army and is fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad, agreed to free members of IS, also known as ISIL or ISIS, after rounds of talks, according to the report.
The rebels released the 50 IS captives near Aleppo in return for the release of Turkish hostages at Akcakale in the southeast on the Syrian border, Hurriyet said.
The Turkish hostages reached Syria's northern province of Raqqa on Friday. But their captors waited until 5:00 am Saturday for the Syrian group rebels to release the IS captives, Hurriyet said.
Ankara has been accused by some analysts of helping to fuel the rise of IS jihadists with its support of Islamist rebels fighting Assad but has vehemently denied backing their brutal campaign.
The jihadists now control swathes of Iraq and northern Syria and are now pushing on Kurdish-dominated areas in Syria, prompting a huge influx of refugees into Turkey.