48 Iranians Feed in Prisoner Swap

CNC report from Damascus
Added On January 10, 2013

The 48 Iranians received a very warm greeting at Damascus' five-star Sheraton Hotel on Wednesday evening.

Iran's ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Riza Shibani was in presence.

SOUNDBITE (IRANIAN) MOHAMMAD RIZA SHIBANI, Iranian ambassador to Syria:
"The swap for those endeared people has gone through a very long phase of efforts exerted by many official and regional agencies as well as humanitarian organizations."

The released Iranians were abducted by Syrian militants in Damascus in August 2012.

Iran claimed them to be pilgrims, while the Syrian rebels alleged that they were Iranian military officials in Syria.

In the swap, the Syrian government released 2,130 prisoners, including two Turkish nationals.

Details surrounding the prisoners are still murky, as some say they were civilian activists while others say they were rebels.

Izzat Shahin is international relations and diplomacy coordinator of IHH humanitarian foundation in Turkey, which helped broker the deal.

SOUNDBITE (ENGLISH): Izzat Shahin, IHH humanitarian foundation in Turkey:
"The main negotiator and mediator was IHH humanitarian foundation in addition to Turkey, Iran and Qatar in the end of the negotiations ... no doubt Syrian authorities helped a lot during the negotiations."

Targeting Shiite people in Syria has become increasingly common as the country's majority Sunni muslims are pitting against the minority ruling elite, the Alawites, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

The rebels are still holding nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims in the northern province of Aleppo as mediations are underway to secure their release.