Turkey helps release of 11 kidnapped Iranians in Syria
Gunmen kidnapped 11 Iranian pilgrims heading to the Syrian capital by road from Turkey last Wednesday. The group of 35 pilgrims were on a bus outside the central city of Hama when armed men ambushed it.
The gunmen took away 11 men, leaving behind the women, children and elderly men, after stealing money and mobile phones from them. The pilgrims had been heading to visit Shiite shrines in Syria, he said.
A statement released by the FSA said on Monday that the rebel army released 11 kidnapped Iranians for humanitarian reasons after Turkey's mediation. The rebel army said the kidnapped Iranians are allegedly sharpshooters firing on protesters and linked to Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
The Free Army said they have nothing to do with Iranian people but they are against the Iranian regime who supported the regime in Damascus.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a close ally of Iran, is under mounting international pressure to end a military crackdown on a 11-month-old popular uprising, which has escalated into an armed insurgency in some regions.
Syrians opposed to Assad come mainly from the country's Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad and his ruling coterie belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam. Iran is the Middle East's Shi'ite power.
Five Iranian technicians were also kidnapped in the Syrian city of Homs in December and Tehran demanded their immediate release.
Iran has condemned what it has called foreign interference in Syrian affairs and has praised reforms Assad has pledged to undertake, but tempered its rhetoric on Syria as the uprising has dragged on and bloodshed has worsened.
At first Tehran wholeheartedly supported Assad's stance against public opposition, but now it is encouraging reforms to take account of popular grievances.
The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in Assad's crackdown on protests. Syria says more than 2,000 security force members have been killed by militants.
The FSA also praised Turkey's position on Syria and thanked Turkey for its support to the rebel army and Syrian people.