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.