Claiming the U.S. has provided weapons to the Syrian opposition, Iran said Tuesday the United States is therefore responsible for the lives of a group of Iranians taken hostage near Damascus on Saturday.
"Keeping in mind the clear U.S. support for the terrorist groups and forwarding of weapons to Syria, Iran has noted that Washington is responsible for the lives of the 48 kidnapped Iranian pilgrims in Damascus," Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told the Iranian state-run IRNA news.
"The United States, as a state-sponsor of terrorism, is held responsible for the lives of the Iranian pilgrims," he added, noting that the Iranian foreign ministry had sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. reiterating the statement.
A group of 48 Iranian Shi'a Muslim pilgrims were taken hostage while in Syria on Saturday. The group, headed to the Sayyida Zainab shrine in southeast Damascus, was kidnapped by the Al-Baraa Brigade of the Free Syrian Army.
The brigade claims the pilgrims are actually undercover members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in Syria to undermine the rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. They said three of the pilgrims were killed during government shelling of their defenses on Sunday.
The deputy foreign minister could not confirm the deaths in his IRNA interview, however, stating only, "We hope the diplomatic efforts made in this respect will lead to contributions of the countries that are responsible for this event's occurrence...and we would be witnesses to the safe return home of all these Iranian pilgrims."
There was no immediate response to the letter or statements from the State Department.
Meanwhile, in other parts of Damascus, fighting continued to worsen. In addition to Damascus, heavy fighting is now being seen in Aleppo and Idlib.
The UN estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011. The opposition, however, claims the actual death toll is closer to 20,000.
Additionally, up to 1.5 million Syrians have been internally displaced, with an additional 130,000 fleeing the country for refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.
by RTT Staff Writer
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