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    » 08/06/2012, 00.00

    IRAN - SYRIA

    Iran calls on Turkey and Qatar to help release 48 pilgrims captured by Syrian rebels



    For Tehran, the group of 48 are pilgrims, and include women and children. For rebels, they are revolutionary guards sent by Iran on a reconnaissance mission. A rebel-made video shows only men. The incident could increase tensions between Sunnis and Shias. Syria's prime minister flees to Jordan.

    Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Iran has asked Turkey and Qatar for help in the release of 48 Iranians captured by rebels in Syria. Iran claims they are pilgrims; the rebels say they are revolutionary guards.

    Reports about the incident were broadcast on Iranian TV, which said that a bus with Shia pilgrims was a stopped a few kilometres from their destination, the Shia shrine of Sayyida Zeinab. For Syrian rebels, the bus was carrying revolutionary guards on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus.

    Rebels (pictured) posted a video on line, accusing Tehran of supporting Bashar al-Assad's regime. However, Colonel Malik al Kurdi, a deputy commander of the Free Syrian Army, said the group taking responsibility for the kidnapping acted on its own.

    The Iranian Embassy in Damascus said that the group of pilgrims was travelling on its own in a private tour, and that it included women and children. Yesterday's videos showed only men and Iranian documents.

    The incident could further poison Sunni-Shia relations, and widen the gulf between pro- and anti-Assad countries.

    Iran has accused Turkey and Qatar of supporting the Free Syrian Army and the anti-Assad opposition in order to bring about his downfall.

    Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Qatari counterpart Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani agreed to seek the Iranians' release, Iran's IRNA news agency said on Sunday.

    Meanwhile, as Syrian forces mass 20,000 troops for the final assault against Aleppo's rebel strongholds, there have been reports that Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab and his family have fled to Jordan. Syrian television announced his resignation.

    Hijab, a top Baa'th party official and a Sunni, was appointed by Assad on 23 June. He said he joined the opposition because of the regime's crimes and "genocide" against its own people.

     

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    The government yesterday blocked a group of 50 young pilgrims who had already boarded a plane bound for Krakow. Interrogated for hours by immigration, they were "admonished" and sent home with orders not to contact anyone abroad. Meanwhile, "young Chinese Catholics" hang around central World Youth Day locations in groups of five or six, with the task of spying on fellow countrymen. They work for cultural institutes or Chinese companies in Poland.


    POLAND – CHINA – WYD
    "Our dream is to bring World Youth Day to China, despite government obstacles”



    The big Chinese delegation in Krakow for 31st World Youth Days has not lost hope. “The government has done so much to discourage us, but they cannot win all the time.” One day the Pope “will celebrate young people in China." Participants express the joy and the wonder of being in Poland. “Religious aspect of this trip aside, the trip is a source of wonder. At home, it is like living in a kind of cultural prison”; what impresses here “the most so far is meeting the world.”


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