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Salehi Says Some Iranians Kidnapped In Syria Were Retired Guards

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi talks to journalists in Ankara on August 7.
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has been quoted as saying that some of the 48 Iranians kidnapped by Syrian rebels are retired members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and military.

But Salehi, quoted by Iran's ISNA news agency on August 8, said those former military personnel were exclusively on a religious pilgrimage to Damascus when they were seized on August 4.

Salehi spoke as he was flying back from Turkey, whom he asked for help in freeing the Iranians.

Salehi also told reporters that a dozen countries are to attend a hastily convened meeting in Tehran on August 9 to discuss ways to end the violence in Syria, without saying who was coming.

Speaking after the talks with Salehi on August 7, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Ankara had warned Iran "in a frank and friendly manner" against blaming Turkey for violence in Syria.

Ankara was irked by comments this week by Iran's top general Hassan Firouzabadi, in which he accused Ankara, alongside Saudi Arabia and Qatar, of helping the "war-raging goals of America."

Davutoglu however told Salehi that Turkey would try to help free the 48 Iranian captives.

Meanwhile, Syrian rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad's forces in the city of Aleppo say they have abandoned their positions in a key district of Syria's largest city, after Syrian army tanks penetrated the rebel-held Salaheddin district on the morning of August 8.

The Syrian government also said Assad's forces were now in control of the Salaheddin district.

Monitors said at least 12 people were killed in army shelling in the city.

Amnesty International has expressed alarm about the plight of civilians around Aleppo, after satellite images showed intensified use of heavy weapons near residential areas.

The London-based rights group said images from Anadan, a small town near Aleppo, revealed more than 600 probable artillery impact craters.

Claims That A Russian General Has Been Killed

Earlier on August 8, a Syrian rebel group said it had killed a Russian general by the name of Vladimir Kuzheyev in an operation on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

The group calling itself the "Hawks Special Operations Battalion" issued a video showing a purported copy of the Russian's ID, as issued by the Syrian military.

The same group claimed responsibility for the assassination of four of President Bashar al-Assad's top lieutenants in Damascus last month.

The group issued a video in which a man, who identifies himself as a rebel commander called Majeed al-Sayed Ahmad, claims rebels have killed a Russian "snake."

The video also showed a purported copy of the Russian's ID, as issued by the Syrian military.

Nonetheless, a Russian reserve general whose name is Vladimir Kuzheyev spoke on Russian defense ministry's television channel Zvezda on August 8, saying that he was "alive and well" and "in good health."

"As a person, I'm deeply appalled by these blatant lies," he said. "As a reserve general, I understand that this is a provocation aimed not only against me, but against my country, too."

There was no immediate confirmation in the Russian media, however, that Kuzheyev had been in Syria in the recent past.

Russia, which is estimated to have several hundred military personnel in Syria, is one of the few countries still backing Assad diplomatically since a popular uprising against his rule erupted 17 months ago.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax
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