Syrian rebels holding dozens of Iranian hostages since August and who threatened to execute them by Sunday have temporarily postponed their killing, a Free Syrian Army spokesman told AFP.
“Contact has been established with the Turkish authorities as part of indirect negotiations between the FSA and the Syrian and Iranian regimes,” said Ahmed Al Khatib, spokesman for the FSA’s Military Council in Damascus province.
“If the Syrian regime does not in the coming hours release three girls and two families detained from the Eastern Ghuta area of Damascus province, the group holding the hostages may start fulfilling their ultimatum,” said Khatib.
On Thursday the FSA’s revolutionary military council said it would execute the hostages within 48 hours if the army did not withdraw completely from the Eastern Ghuta area, a focus of heavy military operations since early on in the anti-regime revolt.
“We also have other secret, military demands. If the regime does not fulfill them we will start finishing off the hostages,” Abul Wafa, the revolutionary military council chief in Damascus province, told AFP via Skype on Friday.
It is the second time the rebels have issued such a threat against the Iranian hostages.
The rebels claim the men are members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
Iran maintains they were visiting Syria as pilgrims to a Shiite Muslim shrine in southeastern Damascus, but have also said some of them are retired army and Guards members.
The rebels delayed the execution of the Iranian hostages a day after Al Baraa Brigade posted on its Facebook page a short video of a group of the hostages appealing to the Iranian authorities for help.
“We assure our families in Iran that, thank God, we are well and healthy,” one unidentified man in civilian clothing said as he read out a statement in Farsi.
“We ask the Iranian government to act seriously [to ensure] our freedom without losing time,” he added.
Dozens of civilians have been killed and arbitrarily arrested during army shelling and clashes in the province in recent days, monitors and activists say.
Human rights monitors have accused both the regime and rebels of committing war crimes, including extra-judicial executions.