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

    Former US Envoys Urge Obama to Delay Troop Cuts in Afghanistan

    Keeping troop levels up during conflict with both Taliban and Islamic State is necessary to support Kabul government, they say

    First Lady to Visit Africa to Promote Girls' Education

    Michele Obama will be joined by daughters and actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto

    Video NYSE Analyst: Brexit Will Continue to Place Pressure on Markets

    Despite orderly pricing and execution strategy at the New York Stock Exchange, analyst explains added pressure on world financial markets is likely

    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.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora