Syrian rebels free 48 Iran citizens in prisoner swap
APDAMASCUS, Syria--Syrian rebels on Wednesday freed 48 Iranians held captive since August after President Bashar Assad's regime promised to release hundreds of detainees in the first major prisoner swap of the country's civil war, officials said.
January 10, 2013, 12:04 am TWN
Iran is one of Assad's main backers and the Iranians, who were seized outside Damascus in August, were a major bargaining chip for factions trying to bring down his regime. Rebels claimed the captives were linked to Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, but Tehran has denied that.
Mohammad Riza Shibani, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus, confirmed that the 48 prisoners have been released.
The rebels had threatened to kill the captives unless the Syrian regime halted military operations against the opposition.
A spokesman for a Turkish Islamic aid group that helped coordinate the release said the regime had agreed to release 2,130 people in exchange for the Iranians, who were released Wednesday.