Turkey on Monday denied a report in the Iranian media that a Turkish army general had been arrested by the Syrian army in Aleppo.
The Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency has reported that “the Syrian Army announced that it has recently apprehended a Turkish general who was commanding the terrorists trying to seize control of Aleppo.”
The report claimed that the Turkish general was arrested during the Syrian Army's clashes with the opposition fighters in Aleppo, adding that the general has been taken to Damascus for further interrogation. Iran's semi-official Press TV, meanwhile, claimed that the Syrian army had arrested a group of Turkish and Saudi officers in Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo.
On Monday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry released a statement that denied the arrest of the Turkish general, adding that the report did not reflect reality at all.
The statement also denied a claim that the Turkish general would be swapped with the 48 Iranian pilgrims taken hostage in the capital of war-torn Syria by opposition forces on Saturday.
“Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu yesterday for Turkey's help to secure the release of 48 Iranian pilgrims. Davutoğlu said to Salehi that, just like in the past, Turkey would approach the issue from a humanitarian point and would work hard for the resolution of the issue,” added the statement.
Salehi has also contacted his Qatari counterpart to secure the release of the Iranians. Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu and his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al-Thani, agreed to seek the pilgrims' release during separate phone conversations with Salehi, Iran's state news agency IRNA said on Sunday.
Iranian media said the kidnapped Iranians were traveling on a bus to the airport from the shrine of Sayeda Zainab -- a Shiite site of pilgrimage in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus -- to return home when they were captured by armed insurgents. A Free Syrian Army commander, on the other hand, said the bus was far from the mosque and heading to areas where government forces and rebels were fighting.
But the Iranians' captors claimed in a video broadcast on the Al-Arabiya TV station on Sunday that one of the captives was an officer of Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps and that the 48 were on a "reconnaissance mission" in the capital.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry denied the claims about a link between the kidnapped Iranian pilgrims in Syria and the Revolutionary Guards Corps on Monday.
Meanwhile, speaking to the Iranian-based Al-Alam state TV, Hussein Sheikholeslam, a member of the Consultative Assembly of Iran, claimed that the rebels were trained in Turkey, adding they would not dare to attempt to kidnap the Iranians without the permission of Ankara. “Qatar is supporting the rebels financially and Turkey is providing the rebels with military training in its own lands. If Ankara and Doha hadn't given the rebels a green light, they would not dare to kidnap Iranians,” said Sheikholeslam.
Stating that the captors were based in Turkey, he added that Ankara was responsible for the security and the release of the Iranians.
The kidnapping is the largest such abduction of Iranian pilgrims, although it is not the first time Iranians have been kidnapped by armed gunmen in Syria.
Several Iranians have been abducted in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began 17 months ago, and many have been released to Turkish authorities before being returned to Iran, according to Iranian media outlets.
The majority of the Syrians seeking to topple Assad belong to the Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad comes from the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, which is the main religion of Iran, a close ally of the beleaguered Syrian regime.