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Syria says 2 missing Americans arrested

DAMASCUS, Syria Two American journalists who went missing during a vacation in Lebanon eight days ago were arrested Thursday in Syria after they crossed the Lebanese-Syrian border with the help of smugglers, Syrian officials said.

Holli Chmela, 27, and Taylor Luck, 23 were detained after they crossed into the country, the Syrian foreign ministry said. It said the two will be handed over to the U.S. Embassy following a completion of "necessary measures."

The Syrian government confirmed that the two Americans were Chmela and Luck, deputy State Department spokesman Robert Wood, adding "we are greatly relieved that the two are safe and are seeking consular access."

Smugglers are known to be active on the Lebanon-Syria border where they use unpaved mountainous roads to bring goods to both countries. Gangs are also known to smuggle people, mainly workers looking for jobs in Lebanon.

Lebanese authorities who were trying to determine whether the pair had left the country through regular border crossings said departure records do not show that Chmela and Luck had formally left the country.

The U.S. Embassy in Beirut announced Wednesday the two went missing during a vacation in Lebanon and have not been heard from since Oct. 1, when they headed to northern Lebanon en route to Syria.

Chmela and Luck had been working for the Jordan Times and were expected back in Amman on Saturday.

The embassy said Chmela and Luck were reportedly headed for the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, a predominantly Sunni Muslim city where militants and Islamic fundamentalists are known to be active.

U.S. Embassy in Beirut earlier this week warned its citizens about potential violent actions targeting Americans in Lebanon and called on them to be more watchful. It said the threats were particularly high in the first half of October.

Chmela and Luck arrived in Lebanon on Sept. 29 from the Jordanian capital of Amman on vacation. They told a friend on Oct. 1 that they were traveling from Beirut to Tripoli through the coastal town of Byblos that day, the U.S. embassy said.

From Tripoli, they planned to cross by land into Syria, it added.

Luck, of Oak Park, Illinois, has been a reporter at the Jordan Times for the past 18 months. He graduated last year from Beloit College in Wisconsin as an international relations major but also studied Arabic, the school's public affairs director Ron Nief said. He said the college awarded Luck a grant to return to Jordan for study.

Chmela worked as a clerk for The New York Times in Washington before leaving this year to study Arabic in Jordan, according to Times' Bureau Chief Dean Baquet. In a memo to staff about the disappearance, he said she later took an internship with the Jordan Times.

She worked as an intern at the English-language daily for three months before leaving the job several weeks ago, the paper's chief editor, Samir Barhoumeh, said.

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