Syrian Army claims capture of Iranian officers

Iran is Syria`s closest ally in the region and has stood behind the regime in Damascus.

Beirut: The rebel Free Syrian Army claimed
on Friday to have captured five Iranian military officers in the
restive city of Homs and urged Tehran to "immediately"
withdraw any additional troops it may have in Syria.

In a statement, the FSA said the Iranians captured "were
working under the orders of the intelligence services of the
Syrian air force" and had no valid papers to reside or work in

It did not specify when the officers were arrested and FSA
officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

The statement urged Iran`s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali
Khamenei to admit that members of the Iranian Revolutionary
Guard Corps, or Pasdaran, were in Syria to assist the regime
of Bashar al-Assad in its bid to crush a 10-month popular

"The (Iranian) officers must immediately leave Syrian
territory, more specifically by Saturday morning," the
statement said.

It added that two Iranian civilians also captured by the
FSA would be released as they were employed at a power plant
in the central region of Homs, which has become a flashpoint
of the revolt against Assad.

The FSA, which claims to have 40,000 soldiers who have
deserted the regular army, posted a video along with its
statement that showed several men carrying what it said were
Iranian passports.

Iran is Syria`s closest ally in the region and has stood
behind the regime in Damascus despite international
condemnation against the fierce crackdown that has left more
than 5,000 people dead.

On Thursday the Iranian foreign ministry said 11 Iranian
citizens on a pilgrimage to Syria had been kidnapped in the
central part of the country.
"According to our information, 11 Iranian pilgrims
travelling by road to Damascus were kidnapped by an unknown
group," said ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast, quoted by
the state news agency IRNA.

"We call on the Syrian government to use all means ... to
release the Iranian nationals," he said.

In a similar incident in late December, seven Iranian
engineers were kidnapped in the Homs region of central Syria,
a hub of deadly unrest which has swept the Arab state since
last March.