NGO: Syria to swap prisoners for rebel-held Iranians

January 9, 2013 11:05

ISTANBUL - The Syrian government will free 2,130 civilian prisoners on Wednesday in exchange for the release of 48 Iranians held by Syrian rebels, a board member of the Turkish humanitarian aid agency IHH said.

The Syrian rebel al-Baraa brigade seized the Iranians in early August and initially threatened to kill them.

"Most of the prisoners to be swapped are Syrian citizens in exchange for Iranians, and there are a few Turks as well," IHH board member Osman Atalay told Reuters.

He quoted IHH chief Bulent Yildirim, who was in Damascus to help coordinate the deal, as saying that the prisoner swap had already begun. There was no confirmation from the Syrian government. Turkey's state-run Anatolian news agency said the deal was brokered by Turkey and Qatar.

The rebels say the captives were Revolutionary Guards sent by Iran to help Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces crush their revolt. Iran, one of Assad's closest allies, has said they were pilgrims visiting Shi'ite Muslim shrines.

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