HÜRRIYET (Turkey), THE GUARDIAN (UK), REUTERS, FRANCE 24
ISTANBUL– The Syrian government has announced it would free 2,130 civilian prisoners on Wednesday, in exchange for the release of 48 Iranians held by Syrian rebels.
Iranian state TV confirmed that the 48 hostages, captured by the Free Syrian Army back in August, had been freed. The Syrian rebels say the Iranians, who claimed to be religious pilgrims, were working for the Damascus regime.
Although there has been no confirmation from the Syrian government so far, Bulent Yildirim, head of the Turkish non-governmental organization Humanitarian Relief Foundation that helped broker the swap, told Reuters that the exchange was underway: "The 48 Iranians have been released and are being taken to Damascus, accompanied by Iranian and Syrian officials."
Biggest ever since uprising began prisoner swap taking place in #syria.2000+ prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians
— Arwa Damon (@arwaCNN) January 9, 2013
Among the 2,130 civilians held captive by the Syrian regime there are at least four Turkish citizens, YÄ±ldÄ±rÄ±m told Turkey’s Hürriyet, adding that the swap -- happening simultaneously in several cities including Damascus, Latakia, Homs, Idlib and Aleppo -- was being directed with mediation from Turkey, Qatar and Iran.
The news comes as the UN World Food Program (WFP) warned that it was unable to reach one million desperate and hungry Syrians because of the perilous security situation across the country after nearly two years of deadly conflict, France 24 reports.
The WFP is handing out food rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria each month, a spokeswoman for the organization said, but it still falls short of the 2.5 million to be reached.