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'Retired' Guards among Syria hostages: Iran

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Retired Guards among Syria hostages: Iran
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Tehran: "Retired" members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and army are among the 48 Iranians taken hostage in Syria by rebels, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Wednesday, the ISNA news agency reported.

But he said those former military personnel were exclusively on a religious pilgrimage to Damascus when they were seized on Saturday.

"A number of the (hostages) are retired members of the Guards and the army. Some others were from other ministries," Salehi was quoted as telling reporters as he flew back from Turkey, which he asked for help in freeing the Iranians.

Iranian officials had previously insisted the 48 Iranians were only pilgrims travelling to a holy Muslim site in Damascus. This was the first time Tehran admitted that any of them had a connection to its military.

On Sunday, Syrian rebels posted a video of the hostages and claimed they were members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards on a "reconnaissance mission." Tehran denied the charge.

On its Facebook page, the rebel group on Monday said three of the Iranians had been killed in shelling by Syrian regime forces on their position.

It threatened to execute other hostages if the bombardment did not stop.

It was not possible to independently verify the deaths of the three Iranians. The fate of the other hostages was not known.

"Fortunately, in the video clip that was broadcast of these people, we see that these people are pilgrims and have no equipment other than clothes, personal items and identification cards," Salehi was quoted as saying.

He said the 48 abducted were in one of three buses taking Iranians to the airport in Damascus on Saturday. "There were three buses, two of which reached the airport," he said.

PTI

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