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September 26, 2017

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Qatar urges Syria rebels not to kill Iran prisoners

DUBAI--Qatar, a major supporter of Syrian rebels, urged them on Sunday not to kill Iranians seized two months ago near Damascus, after the captors threatened to start killing their 48 prisoners.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani made the appeal following a request from Iran, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to secure a release of the captives.

The Syrian rebel al-Baraa brigade said on Thursday it would start killing the Iranians unless Assad, battling an 18-month-old uprising, freed Syrian opposition detainees and stopped shelling civilian areas.

A statement on the brigade's Facebook page on Sunday said it had extended its deadline by 24 hours at the request of mediators. The rebels say the captives are members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. Tehran says they were pilgrims visiting Shiite Muslim shrines.

"As a general policy in the state of Qatar, we don't accept the killing of prisoners," Sheikh Hamad told Al Jazeera television. "We also don't accept further escalation of the situation in Syria. We agree that all parties have their demands, but the basic principle is not to kill prisoners."

The Baraa Brigade, which initially threatened to kill the Iranians after seizing them in early August, said in a video released on Thursday that negotiations over their fate "failed as a result of the betrayal of the Iranian and Syrian regimes."

"We give the Syrian and Iranian regimes 48 hours to release prisoners, stop the shelling against unarmed civilians and the random killing of innocents or we will kill an Iranian prisoner for each martyr," said a rebel wearing camouflage fatigues.

He was standing in front of three lines of mostly bearded men who appeared to be the Iranian prisoners.

The brigade said at the time of the men's capture it had documents showing their involvement in the Revolutionary Guards.

Insurgents fighting to topple Assad accuse Iran of sending fighters from the Revolutionary Guards to help Assad's forces crush the revolt.

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