Syrian rebels claim that the 48 Iranians it kidnapped on Saturday are members of the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards and not pilgrims as Iran alleges, in footage aired exclusively by Al Arabiya TV.
The rebels “captured 48 of the Shabiha (militiamen) of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus,” said a man dressed as an officer of the Free Syrian Army, in the video aired by Al Arabiya.
“During the investigation, we found that some of them were officers of the Revolutionary Guards,” he said, showing ID documents taken from one of the men, who appeared in the background with a large Syrian independence flag held by two armed men behind them.
Abdel Nasser Shmeir, interviewed later by Al Arabiya and presented as the commander of Al-Baraa Brigade, gave similar details.
“They are 48, in addition to an Afghani interpreter,” he said, claiming that the captives were members of a 150-strong group sent by Iran for “reconnaissance on the ground.”
Iran has appealed to Turkey and Qatar, both with close relations with the Syrian opposition, for help in securing the release of the hostages it claims were pilgrims visiting the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a Shiite pilgrimage site in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus.
Shmeir said his men “have not yet entered into any contacts” about the hostages.
Syrian Planes Hit Resistance
Conflict continued in Syria Sunday as government warplanes pounded rebel-held districts of Shaar and Sakhur in the northern city of Aleppo, a watchdog said.
“Fighter jets are being used to pound Shaar and Sakhur,” Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP.
Earlier, clashes broke out between troops and rebels in the districts of Ansari, Hamdaniyeh and Sukari in Aleppo, scene of heavy fighting since July 20, the Observatory said, adding at least 44 people were killed across Syria on Sunday.
Of those killed, 28 were civilians, 10 were soldiers and six were rebel fighters.
In Damascus, regime forces raided the district of Qaboon on Sunday, arresting several civilians, the Observatory said, adding that one of the detainees was a 12-year-old boy.
After clashes with rebels in Rokn Eddin on Saturday, the military set up new checkpoints in the neighbourhood of Damascus and in several other parts of the capital.
Elsewhere in the province of Damascus, clashes broke out in Kfar Batna as regime forces shelled that village. The army also shelled Harasta, in the same province.
At Rastan in the central province of Homs, regime forces pounded rebel positions, said the Britain-based Observatory.
“Regime forces dropped more than 60 shells on Rastan, at a rate of four to five shells a minute,” the watchdog added.
On Saturday, violence nationwide killed 205 people, the Observatory said.
It is impossible to independently verify death tolls out of Syria, while the United Nations has stopped giving its own count.