TEHRAN: Iran has asked Turkey to help free 48 Iranian pilgrims who are being held in Syria after kidnappers stormed their bus in Damascus, state media reported on Sunday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi telephoned his Turkish and Qatari counterparts, Ahmet Davutoglu and Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir Al Thani, late Saturday to request their assistance, the state television website reported.
Turkey and Qatar are, along with Saudi Arabia, prime supporters of the Syrian opposition. Iran is the staunchest supporter of the Syrian regime battling rebels it terms “terrorists”.
“During a telephone conversation, Ali Akbar Salehi asked Ahmet Davutoglu for Turkey’s immediate intervention to liberate the Iranian pilgrims held hostage in Syria,” it said.
Davutoglu responded by promising “to study the issue and to carry out efforts as in previous cases,” it said.
Iran’s embassy in Damascus and Syria’s state Sana news agency said on Saturday that the 48 Iranian pilgrims were abducted by “armed terrorist groups”as they were in a bus on their way to the airport in Damascus.
The embassy and Syrian officials were trying to trace the kidnappers, both sources said.
Iran and Turkey are positioned on either side of the conflict raging in Syria.
Tehran is Damascus’s staunchest ally, while Ankara supports the cause of the opposition seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian government describes the rebels as “terrorists” and it and Iran accuse Turkey of supplying them with military and financial aid.
While relations have become strained at times, Tehran and Ankara continue to communicate with each other regularly as two of the states with the most influence over events in the Middle East.
Turkey played a role earlier this year in helping to free several other Iranians who had been kidnapped in Syria.
Of 32 Iranian pilgrims, engineers and truck drivers kidnapped in several previous abductions, 27 have so far been released, according to an official IRNA news agency tally.
Up to 700,000 Iranians used to travel to Syria each year to visit the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a Shiite pilgrimage site in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus, but that number has dropped since the outbreak of violence in March last year.