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March 29, 2023

Iranians held by Syria rebels ‘released’

UN: 1 million Syrians need emergency food aid.

Forty-eight Iranians held hostage by rebels in Syria since August have been freed, Iranian state TV reports, quoted by BBC.The Iranians were released in exchange for 2,130 prisoners held by the Syrian authorities, a Turkish charity said.Rebel fighters claimed the hostages had been carrying out a mission on behalf of Syrian government forces. Iran said a number were retired members of the armed forces, but insisted they were pilgrims who had visited a Shia shrine in the south-east of Damascus.Officials at the Iranian Pilgrimage and Travel Organisation said the group included university students and some public servants.Shortly after they were seized, the Free Syrian Army’s al-Bara Brigade said it had evidence showing that the Iranians belonged to the Revolutionary Guards and had come to Syria to “serve the regime”. The Syrian government has not yet confirmed their release and Iranian state TV made no mention of a swap deal.But earlier, the Turkish Islamic aid organisation, Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), said 2,130 civilian prisoners would be released by the Syrian authorities in return for the Iranians. The Turkish state news agency, Anadolu, said the deal was brokered by Turkey and Qatar, which have backed the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, in which the UN says at least 60,000 people have died.In another development, The United Nations said Tuesday that about one million Syrians are living without adequate food supplies and that serious fuel shortages and rising violence are disrupting aid distribution across the war-torn country. According to U.N. World Food Program spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, the agency is distributing rations to about 1.5 million people in Syria every month, the vast majority internally displaced.  That is well below the 2.5 million people in need of assistance.The lack of fuel and security in Syria has significantly curtailed the ability of the WFP’s main local partner, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, from distributing aid. “The Syrian Red Crescent is stretched to the limit and has no more capacity to expand further.  That is why we need more implementing partners, NGOs, on the ground to distribute humanitarian food assistance,” Byrs said.

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