Assad has released more than 2,000 prisoners in a swap with opposition forces.
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has released more than 2,000 prisoners, including women and children, in a swap with opposition forces. Opposition forces released 48 Iranians detained five months ago. The exchange was brokered by the governments of Qatar and Turkey and a Turkish humanitarian group.
The prisoners released by the regime were mostly Syrian citizens, shedding a spotlight on the thousands of Syrians languishing behind bars since the conflict began 22 months ago, when peaceful anti-government protests were met with brutal and escalating violence by Assad forces. Tens of thousands of Syrians reportedly remain in regime prisons. And recently the United Nations estimated that more than 60,000 people have died since the conflict began in March 2011.
Iran is the Syrian government’s staunchest supporter in the Middle East and has been actively aiding Assad’s effort to quell the uprising, with training, material and, as admitted by an Iranian military commander, personnel. The Syrian opposition has said the captured Iranians who were exchanged for the 2,139 prisoners held by the Syrian government were members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, on a reconnaissance mission in Syria. The Iranian government has claimed they were “pilgrims” travelling to an important Shiite shrine.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland voiced support for the former view of the Iranian detainees:
“We note that most of the Iranians who had been held captive are members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, just another example of how Iran continues to provide guidance, expertise, personnel, [and] technical capabilities to the Syrian regime.”
Ms. Nuland also observed that the Syrian regime chose Iranians, not Syrian citizens, for release in the prisoner exchange ”further indicating how much they value the life of their own citizens versus the surrogates who are propping them up.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that the most important lifeline keeping Bashar al Assad’s regime afloat is Iran. But, as White House spokesman Jay Carney, declared recently, “The future in Syria does not and will not include Bashar al Assad. He has lost all legitimacy. . .and must step aside to enable a political solution that ends the bloodshed and suffering and meets the aspirations of the Syrian people.”