Turkey working for release of Iranian hostages in Syria

By Today’s Zaman

Turkey, which Iran has called on for assistance to secure the release of 48 Iranian hostages being held by Syrian opposition forces, is working closely for the resolution of the issue, a Turkish official has said.

A senior Turkish official who spoke to Today’s Zaman on the condition of anonymity stated that Turkey would do its utmost to find a solution to the matter. “Just as in the past, Turkey will approach the issue from a humanitarian perspective and work hard for the resolution of the issue,” said the official.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has once again called for Turkey’s assistance to secure the release of 48 Iranian hostages seized by rebels in Syria on suspicion of being military personnel, according to an Iranian news agency. Salehi had called Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in early August with the same request.

The same official added that the matter is complicated as the identities of the hostages, who are claimed to be Revolutionary Guards by the Syrian opposition, are unclear. “Iran calls these hostages pilgrims, whereas the opposition forces call them Revolutionary Guards. Turkey should be treading carefully here,” said the official.

Syrian opposition forces fighting to topple Bashar al-Assad accuse Iran of sending fighters from its Revolutionary Guard to help Assad’s forces put down the 17-month uprising.

Tehran denies the charge and says the group was on a religious pilgrimage to Syria. The Iranian media said on Saturday that the 48 were abducted from a bus in Damascus, the latest in a string of kidnappings of visitors from Iran.

Iran’s official IRNA news agency reported that Salehi had held two separate talks with Davutoğlu and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, requesting their prompt intervention to secure the release of the 48 Iranian hostages. Both ministers agreed to exert necessary efforts to ensure the release of the hostages, IRNA said.

Salehi’s move comes a day after a branch of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), which has been battling Assad’s regime for over a year, announced in a video that it would begin to execute Iranian hostages accused of assisting Syrian troops within the next 48 hours if Damascus does not release opposition detainees and stop the shelling of civilian areas.

On Friday the Saudi-funded, Dubai-based Al Arabiya TV channel aired a video showing members of the FSA’s Bar’a brigade in the Eastern Ghouta area of Damascus saying, “If the Syrian regime, backed by the Iranian regime, does not release detainees and stop the shelling of unarmed civilians and indiscriminate killing of innocent people within 48 hours of the release of this statement, an Iranian prisoner will be killed for each martyr who is killed.” The same brigade kidnapped the 48 Iranians in August in the Syrian capital.

Iran has stood by its ally Syria despite the growing international pressure on President Assad; while Turkey has been among his fiercest critics, demanding he stand down to defuse the 17-month uprising against his rule.


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