Iranian pilgrims abducted in Damascus
Published Saturday, August 4, 2012
Forty-eight Iranian pilgrims were kidnapped from a bus in the Syrian capital on Saturday, their embassy's consular chief in Damascus told Iran's state television.
"Armed terrorist groups kidnapped 48 Iranian pilgrims on their way to the airport," Majid Kamjou told the IRIB network, which gave the report on its website.
"There are no reports about the fate of the pilgrims. The embassy and Syrian officials are trying to trace the kidnappers," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians travel each year to Syria to visit a Shia pilgrimage site, the Shrine of Zaynab, in Damascus.
Several dozen Iranian pilgrims and engineers were abducted in December and January, with most being released months later.
The abductions threaten to influence the geopolitical situation in Syria, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday describing the conflict as a "proxy war" between Iran, Russia and China, and the West and Gulf Arab states.
Earlier on Saturday the Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said that the arming of Syria's rebels would have "very bad implications in the region."
He added that "the region will face a major crisis if foreign forces, currently (covertly) present in Syria, enter the scene" and intervene militarily.
"The losers of such a crisis will be the Westerners and pro-Zionist countries," he predicted.
Iran has accused Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey of arming the opposition in Syria, in collusion with the United States and Israel, to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"It is ugly that countries...have flooded Syria with arms, equipping terrorist groups. It will have very bad implications in the region," Vahidi was quoted as saying.
"The enemy seeks to create a new balance of power between the Zionist regime (Israel) and other Islamic countries in the region by forcing Syria out of the (anti-Israeli) resistance front. However, this will not come about."
UN peace envoy Kofi Annan stepped down on Thursday after accusing world powers of putting self interest ahead of the Syrian people.
Qatar on Saturday said his successor must pursue a new strategy because of what it said was the failure of Annan's six-point peace plan.
"There must be a clear modification to this plan now because the issue of the six points is finished," Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani said. "None of them have been implemented."
Annan's peace plan was centered around an April ceasefire agreement between government forces and rebel fighters, as a first step towards political dialogue.
The ceasefire never took hold and thousands of civilians, soldiers and rebels have been killed since it was agreed.
Sheikh Hamad blamed the failure of the plan on "Syrian procrastination" and the increased bloodshed.
"We, as Arab countries will not accept another envoy representing the Arabs and the Security Council because the circumstances have completely changed," Sheikh Hamad told al-Jazeera television.