News / Middle East

Syrian Rebels Free Iranians in Prisoner Exchange

Iranians released by Syrian rebels arrive at a hotel in Damascus, Syria, January 9, 2013.
Iranians released by Syrian rebels arrive at a hotel in Damascus, Syria, January 9, 2013.
Selah Hennessy
A group of 48 Iranians held hostage by Syrian rebels since early August has arrived at a Damascus hotel after being freed for more than 2,000 prisoners detained by President Bashar al-Assad's government.
 
Wednesday's exchange, brokered by Turkey and Qatar, was carried out from several cities across Syria, including Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Idlib and Aleppo.  It appears to be the first major prisoner swap of the country's nearly two-year-old civil war.
 
A Turkish aid organization, Humanitarian Relief Foundation, coordinated the exchange and was involved in the months of diplomacy leading up to it.  Vice President Huseyin Oruc said among the 2,130 mostly Syrian prisoners freed are four Turkish nationals and a Palestinian.  He said the swap went smoothly.
 
“There is no problem. [The exchange] has been completed.  Forty-eight Iranians have reached Damascus.  And the Syrians are getting to their families,” Oruc said.
 
Turkish media reported that more than 70 women were among those released by the Syrian government, which has not officially confirmed the deal.
 
Iran's ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Riza Shibani, greeted the 48 Iranian former captives with hugs and flowers when they arrived at the Sheraton Damascus Hotel.  They did not speak to reporters.

  • Demonstrators hold banners during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, after Friday prayers in Kafranbel, near Idlib, Syria, January 11, 2013 in this picture provided by Shaam News Network.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter uses binoculars near the Menagh military airport, in Aleppo's countryside, Syria, January 10, 2013.
  • A damaged car and buildings covered with snow are seen in the Jouret al Shayah area of Homs, Syria, January 10, 2013.
  • Residents evacuate their houses after being targeted by missiles fired by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo's al-Mashhad district, Syria, January 9, 2013.
  • Children sit next to a fire in Aleppo city, Syria, January 9, 2013.
  • Civilians and Free Syrian Army fighters gather at a site hit by a missile in Aleppo's al-Mashhad district, Syria, January 7, 2013.
  • People help a wounded person after a missile hit Aleppo's al-Mashhad district, Syria, January 7, 2013.
  • This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad waving to his supporters after speaking at the Opera House in central Damascus, Syria, January 6, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters, wounded during the battle to capture Taftanaz air base, receive treatment at a field hospital in northern Idlib, Syria, January 6, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter feeds a cat in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, January 6, 2013.
  • A man rides his bicycle past buildings damaged by shelling in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, January 6, 2013.
  • A family crosses a street piled with garbage in Aleppo, Syria, January 5, 2013.
Regional power play
 
The Syrian rebel al-Baraa brigade, part of the Free Syrian Army, seized the Iranians from a bus in Damascus in early August and initially threatened to kill them unless Assad's government freed Syrian opposition detainees and stopped shelling civilian areas. 
 
Qatar, heeding a request from Tehran, urged the group not to carry out the threat.
 
The rebels claim the men are linked to Iran's elite Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and were taken while on a "reconnaissance mission." Tehran has denied that, saying they were pilgrims visiting Shi'ite religious sites in Syria.
 
Iran’s Foreign Minister has said some of those kidnapped were once members of the IRGC but are now retired.
 
The Islamic Republic remains President Assad's strongest regional ally while many Sunni Arab states and neighboring Turkey have turned against him and are actively seeking his ouster.
 
Oruc said the exchange negotiations included Iran, Qatar, Turkey and the Syrians.  He said his organization has more work to do, freeing prisoners on both sides of the conflict.
 
“You know there are thousands of people still in prisons in Syria. And we are conducting this humanitarian diplomacy to release all civilians from the side of the opposition and from the regime, from the government,” Oruc said.
 
Loading...
Long history
 
David Hartwell, a Middle East analyst at IHS Jane’s in Britain, said the Syrian government has a long history of taking political prisoners and those numbers have increased rapidly since the current conflict began. 
 
Wednesday’s hostage exchange is significant, he said, but many more are still in captivity.
 
“We don't have exact figures on how many people have been rounded up in the [last] 18 months, so I think it's important to caveat that there are tens of thousands, if not more, prisoners still being held by the Syrian regime at the moment,” Hartwell said.
 
The exchange came just days after Assad vowed to continue fighting rebels despite international pressure to end the bloodshed that has left more than 60,000 people dead since March 2011.
 
Officials from the United States and Russia will meet Friday in Geneva with United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, for further talks on finding a political solution to the Syria crisis.
 
VOA's Mark Snowiss contributed to this report from Washington.

You May Like

Photogallery Obama Announces Plan to Send 3,000 Troops to Liberia in Ebola Fight

At US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Obama details troop deployment and other pieces of US plan More

China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

Muslims in Kunming say that they condemn the violence, it is not a reflection of the true beliefs of their faith More

Humanitarian Aid, Equipment Blocked in Cameroon

Move is seen as a developing supply crisis in West Africa More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous
January 09, 2013 4:49 PM
Great news, now release the rest of the captives Bashsar that are being held elsewhere, and many being abused.


by: JKF from: Ottawa, Canada
January 09, 2013 2:43 PM
"Officials from the United States and Russia will meet Friday in Geneva with United Nations-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, for further talks on finding a political solution to the Syria crisis."
I hope they also do address/move forward to actions wrt the issue of opening corridors/safe distribution areas for the delivery and distibution of humanitarian aid to the trapped civilians. The humanitarian crisis is horrendous, IAW UN, more help needs to reach the population; the entire situation is turning into genocide. Social problems will have negative impact for decades to come in Syria, and beyond.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Communityi
X
September 16, 2014 2:06 PM
Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video Enviropreneur Seeks to Save the Environment, Empower the Community

Lorna Rutto, a former banker, is now an ‘enviropreneur’ - turning plastic waste into furniture and fences discusses the challenges she faces in Africa with raw materials and the environment.
Video

Video West Trades Accusations Over Ransoms

As world leaders try to forge a common response to the threat posed by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, there is simmering tension over differing policies on paying ransoms. In the past month, the jihadist group has beheaded two Americans and one Briton. Both countries refuse to pay ransom money. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, there is uncertainty in the approach of some other European nations.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid