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.
TEXT SIZE - +
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

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid