Two Turkish Airlines pilots who were kidnapped in August in Lebanon were turned over to Lebanese security officials today.

The pair were released as part of a deal that saw nine Lebanese hostages released.

They are expected to fly home later today.
Pilots Murat Akpinar and Murat Agca were abducted two months ago by relatives of one of 11 Lebanese hostages taken in May 2012 by opposition fighters in Syria.

Two of those hostages were released previously, and the remaining nine were freed today, paving the way for the Turkish pilots' release.
Turkey is seen as wielding considerable influence over rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

An opposition monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory fo rHuman Rights, said the government had released dozens of prisoners over the past few days as part of this agreement.

A Lebanese security source released pictures of both theTurkish and Lebanese hostages, all of whom looked healthy.

The Lebanese men were inside a jet, waiting to take off.

The Turkish pilots were photographed in a vehicle in the dark, wearing winter coats.

It was impossible to verify the authenticity of the pictures.

Crowds of relatives and friends were already gathered at Beirut airport and near the hostages' homes to celebrate their return.

A previous attempt to return them failed in May, even asrelatives and local politicians gathered at the airport awaiting their arrival.

Syria's civil war has acquired sectarian dimensions thathave crossed borders and dragged its neighbours into the conflict.

Sunni Muslim countries such as Turkey largely back theSunni-led uprising against four decades of Assad family rule.

Shia Iran backs Assad, as does Hezbollah, which is Shia and supported by Tehran.

Mr Assad is from the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.