Syrian rebels release Iranian hostages in prisoner exchange deal (VIDEO)


Seven Iranian nationals were reported today to have been abducted in the flashpoint Syrian city of Homs. An unknown group calling itself the "Movement Against the Expansion of Shiism in Syria" on Monday claimed responsibility for their abduction in a statement.



Syrian rebels have freed the 48 Iranians they captured in August, Iranian state television reported Wednesday.

According to the Associated Press, the release is part of a major prisoner swap deal, coordinated by a Turkish Islamic aid group. In exchange, Bashar al-Assad's government will release more than 2,130 prisoners currently in their custody.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army said that the hostages had been freed, though the Syrian government has yet to confirm the release.  

A Syrian rebel spokesman told CNN that this may be the biggest prisoner exchange the rebels have conducted with Assad's government since the civil war began almost two years ago.

When the Iranians were initially captured, Syrians rebels claimed the hostages were carrying out a mission for the Syrian government. Iran maintained that the prisoners were pilgrims who were visiting a Shia shrine near Damascus, the BBC reported.

A video released by the rebels shows a commander of the al-Baraa brigade claiming the Iranian men were on a "reconnaissance mission in Damascus," al-Arabiya reported.

Watch the video here: