- Obamas head to church on Easter morning
- In Colorado, a pot holiday tries to go mainstream
- Ukraine PM vows to find ‘bastards’ behind anti-Semitic fliers
- Pope Francis, huge crowd joyously celebrate Easter
- Transcript reveals confusion over ferry evacuation in South Korea
- Militants kill 14 Algerian soldiers in ambush
- Unbeliebable: White House turns Bieber petition response into immigration screed
- Obama signs law denying Iran ambassador’s visa, but says law is ‘advisory’
- Mich. judge to laughing convicted killer: ‘I hope you die in prison’
- Man charged in Kansas City-area highway shootings
Syrian rebels free 48 Iranian hostages while Assad vows to continue fighting
DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian rebels Wednesday freed 48 Iranians held captive since August in exchange for the release of more than 2,000 detainees in the first major prisoner swap of the country’s civil war, officials said.
Syrian President Bashar Assad vowed to press ahead with the fight against rebels despite international pressure to end the bloodshed that has left more than 60,000 people dead.
The group of 48 men arrived at the Sheraton hotel in several vans escorted by Syrian security forces. Iran’s ambassador in Damascus, Mohammad Riza Shibani, greeted them with hugs and flowers.
Mr. Shibani said their release was a result of elaborate and “tough” negotiations, but he did not provide any other details of the deal. The Syrian government, which rarely gives details on security related matters, had no official comment and it was not clear what prompted the exchange.
The rebels had threatened to kill the captives unless the Syrian regime halted military operations against the opposition.
A spokesman for a Turkish Islamic aid group that helped coordinate the release said the regime had agreed to release 2,130 people in exchange for the Iranians.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking at a news conference during a visit to Niger, said four Turks and “a number of Palestinians” were among the prisoners being released by Syria.
He said one Turkish and one Qatari aid organization helped broker the deal. He also said Turkey has been talking with the rebels.
“The rebels had made some preliminary preparations for the release, but we did not know what the Syrian reaction would be. In the end, it seems that they agreed,” Mr. Erdogan said.
“There are still people being held in prisons and who are being aggrieved. Let’s hope that they may be released as well and let’s hope that the process is beneficial for all.”
There were conflicting reports about how many of the prisoners in Syrian custody had been freed. Speaking in Istanbul, Umit Sonmez of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief said the 48 Iranians were handed over to aid workers soon after the Syrian regime let a group go.
Mr. Sonmez said the Syrian prisoners included “ordinary people or friends or relatives of the rebels.”
“This is the largest prisoner exchange to date,” he said. “We are pleased that people from all sides who were held and victimized have finally been freed.”
TWT Video Picks
Women losing coverage under Obamacare, too
- Scalia to students on high taxes: At a certain point, 'perhaps you should revolt'
- Former Ranger breaks silence on Pat Tillman death: I may have killed him
- Special Forces' suicide rates hit record levels casualties of 'hard combat'
- Feds approve powdered alcohol; 'Palcohol' available later this year
- U.S. Navy to turn seawater into jet fuel
- CHARLES: Holder's undermining of the law deserving of contempt
- Justice at last: 'Evil woman' outed for grabbing girl's game ball
- Army goes to war with National Guard, seizes Apache attack helicopters
- Former Blue Angels commander relieved of duty for alleged misconduct
- EDITORIAL: Mark Warner running scared?
Top 10 handguns in the U.S.