Having long accused Iran of extending assistance, including military assistance, to the Assad regime, the Syrian rebels have begun to act against Iranians in Syria and to regard them and the Iranian regime as legitimate targets. The largest incident occurred on August 4, 2012, when militants from the Free Syrian Army (FSA), the largest organ of the armed Syrian opposition, kidnapped 48 Iranians outside Damascus. The FSA also claims to have assassinated an Iranian diplomat, though the Iranians deny this. In addition, the armed and political Syrian opposition has threatened to harm Iranians staying in Syria and to target the Iranian regime itself. So far, incidents and statements of this sort have been few, but they may represent the beginning of a growing trend.
The following are details on the incidents and statements:
On August 4, 2012, FSA militants kidnapped 48 Iranians from a bus outside the Syrian capital. The Iranian regime and the Syrian opposition made conflicting claims regarding the identity of the abductees. The Iranians claimed they were pilgrims, and Iranian National Security Council Secretary Saeed Jalili said they were “innocent people who came to visit the tombs of saints.” However, in an Al-Arabiya TV report on the incident, one of the abductors called the hostages members of the “Iranian shabiha” and said that some of them were officers in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). The report showed IRGC badges allegedly belonging to the hostages. A Syrian opposition website claimed, citing FSA sources, that the hostages were Iranian soldiers and experts who had intended to join the fight against the rebels but had been ambushed by opposition forces. Several days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi admitted that some of the hostages were retired members of the IRGC, the Iranian army, and other institutions.
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