Iran asks for U.N. help in freeing hostages in Syria, Libya
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iran's foreign minister on Tuesday asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his help in efforts to free dozens of Iranian pilgrims and aid workers captured recently in Syria and Libya.
"I would like to seek the cooperation and the good offices of Your Excellency for securing the release of these hostages," Ali Akbar Salehi wrote to Ban in a letter that Iran's U.N. mission provided to Reuters.
"The kind cooperation of the relevant United Nations offices in responding to this request of (Iran's) Government and the families of the hostages will be highly appreciated," Salehi said.
The request for U.N. assistance was delivered a day after Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned a senior diplomat from the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which protects U.S. interests in Iran, to discuss the missing Iranians in Syria.
In New York, a U.N. spokesman confirmed receipt of Salehi's letter, but did not have an immediate response. Iran has also sought the aid of Turkey, one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's most outspoken critics, in freeing the Iranians held in Syria.
"The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran calls for the immediate release of its abducted nationals and is of the view that using the hostages as human shields violates the international law and human rights of these innocent civilians," Salehi said.
Syrian rebels determined to topple Assad accuse Iran of supporting the Syrian government, which has tried unsuccessfully for 17 months to crush an increasingly militant opposition. Tehran supports Assad, who has long been an ally of Iran.
IRAN ACCUSES U.S.
A busload of 48 Iranians was seized by the Syrian rebels on Saturday. Tehran says they were pilgrims visiting a Shi'ite Muslim shrine, denying suggestions that they were military personnel helping Assad put down the rebellion.
A Syrian rebel spokesman said on Monday that three of the Iranians had been killed in a government air strike and the rest would be executed if the attacks did not stop. There has been no word of their fate since then.
In Libya, seven Iranian aid workers were abducted on July 31 by an unknown armed group in the eastern city of Benghazi, the biggest operation of its kind against foreigners since the start of a revolt that toppled long-time ruler Muammar Gaddafi.
The seven men, from an Iranian Red Crescent relief mission, were snatched from their vehicle in the heart of Benghazi on their way back to their hotel, security sources told Reuters.
The Tehran Times reported that a senior Iranian official told a Swiss diplomat on Monday that the U.S. government was responsible for protecting the lives of the abducted Iranians given the United States' support for the Syrian opposition.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Iran had called in the Swiss diplomat, but said the United States had not received any official correspondence from Iran on the matter and he declined to provide further details.
Asked if it was reasonable for Iran to hold the United States responsible for the Iranians, Ventrell replied: "that doesn't seem to make sense."
He also repeated U.S. accusations that Iran is helping Assad crush the opposition.
"To us, it's just unconscionable that the Iranian government is ignoring the massacres of civilians in Aleppo and throughout Syria, and instead, finding new ways to try and prop up a regime who is killing many thousands of its own citizens," he said.
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