Syrian rebels free 48 Iranians in major civil-war prisoner swap

Los Angeles Times


Syrian opposition fighters Wednesday released 48 Iranians captured last August in exchange for the freeing of at least 2,130 detainees held by President Bashar Assad’s government in the largest prisoner swap of the country’s civil war, officials said.

Meanwhile, the United Nations and Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, slammed the peace plan Assad unveiled this week as “sectarian” and “one-sided,” giving little hope a diplomatic solution to the country’s violence would come anytime soon.

The 48 Iranians were let go in Doma, a suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, as the government began to move 2,130 prisoners, including women and children, to buses to free them, Iranian and Turkish state media reported. Among the Syrian government’s prisoners were Turkish nationals, according to Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency.

Syrian activists confirmed that the government had released hundreds of prisoners. The armed rebel group called the Al Bara Brigade, which had kidnapped the Iranians and threatened to kill them if there was not an exchange, celebrated the deal on its Facebook page, confirming the release of Syrian detainees from around the country.

“Today, with the granting of success from Allah, the operation of the release of the prisoners in exchange for arrested Syrians was completed, thus removing the mask from this criminal regime,” the rebel group, a moderate Islamist militia operating in the Damascus countryside, said in a statement.

Iranian television showed footage of the 48 released abductees grinning, flashing victory signs and receiving flowers from Shiite clerics at a hotel in Damascus.

Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told state television: “The release of the abducted Iranians is the result of long and patient work in cooperation with Syrian officials and the assistance of Turkish officials.”

He said two Iranian engineers still were being held hostage in Syria.

Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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