The United States on Tuesday rejected Iranian claims that it was directly responsible for the fate of a group of Iranians held hostage by Syrian rebels since the weekend.
Nevertheless, Washington urged both the Syrian government and rebels to treat all their prisoners humanely in accordance with international laws.
"We call on anyone holding prisoners in this conflict to treat them humanely in accordance with international law, and of course people will be held accountable if that's not followed," Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman of the State Department, said at a press briefing in Washington.
Regarding the identities of the abducted Iranian's, Ventrell said: "We cannot confirm the identity of those reported to be kidnapped, and ... the wider issue of us having deep concerns about Tehran's destructive behavior in Syria continues, but these particular individuals, we don't have any independent information about who they are."
A group of 48 Iranian Shia Muslim pilgrims were taken hostage while in Syria on Saturday last. The group, headed to the Sayyida Zainab shrine in south-east 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.
Earlier on Tuesday, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab & African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian accused the United States of providing arms to the Syrian rebels, and said Washington was therefore responsible for the lives of the abducted Iranians.
"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," Amir-Abdollahian told the state-run IRNA news agency.
"The United States, as a state-sponsor of terrorism, is held responsible for the lives of the Iranian pilgrims," he said, adding that the Iranian Foreign Ministry had sent a diplomatic note to the U.S. reiterating the statement.
However, Ventrell said that Washington had not received any letter from the Iranians as claimed by Amir-Abdollahian. But the U.S. administration was aware that the Charge d'affairs of the Swiss Mission in Tehran had been summoned by the Iranian government.
"Well, that doesn't seem to make sense. And to us, it's just unconscionable that the Iranian government is ignoring the massacres of civilians in Aleppo and throughout Syria and instead finding new ways to try and prop up a regime who is killing many of thousands of its own citizens," he added.
The U.N. estimates that more than 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in Syria since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011. The Opposition, however, claims the actual death toll to be closer to 20,000. The ongoing conflict in Syria is now viewed as a civil war by most of the international community.
Incidentally, the U.S. had severed diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980, following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The relations between the two nations have deteriorated further over differences on Iran's disputed nuclear program. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran is currently looking after U.S. interests in Iran.
by RTT Staff Writer
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