Iranian media claims Turkish pilots among released prisoners in Syria

January 10, 2013, Thursday/ 11:25:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency has alleged that four Turkish pilots were among the more than 2,000 prisoners released by the Syrian regime on Wednesday as part of the biggest prisoner swap deal so far in the Syrian conflict.

Forty-eight Iranians who were captured in Damascus in August by Syrian opposition groups were released on Wednesday under the swap deal mediated by Qatar, Iran and a Turkish charity group, the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH).

In exchange for the 48 Iranians, the Syrian regime released 2,130 people, including four Turkish nationals.

Iran is seen as a staunch ally of the Syrian regime.

The Iranian news agency quoted a senior Syrian military official as saying that the Syrian government swapped the prisoners for the 48 abducted Iranians only “because the four Turkish pilots were part of the deal.”

Speaking at a news conference in Niger on Wednesday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that there are four Turkish nationals among the released prisoners, without elaborating on the identities of the released prisoners.

Last week, Iranian media claimed that four Turkish Air Force pilots were captured by the Syrian army as they were trying to infiltrate into an air base near Aleppo. Turkey denied the reports, describing them as “manipulation” and “false.”

Turkey's role in the swap deal, meanwhile, is not completely clear. Without openly naming the İHH, Erdoğan said efforts of Qatar and a Turkish NGO brought about the deal, but revealed that prior to this Turkey had meetings with the Syrian opposition, which had indicated readiness to release the Iranian hostages.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi spoke to his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, over the phone on Wednesday and thanked him for Turkey's role in the release of the Iranians, the Anatolia news agency reported.

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