Iran's Salehi visits Qatar to discuss Iranians seized in Syria

DUBAI Sat Oct 13, 2012 2:45pm BST

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi visited Qatar in the past week to discuss the fate of 48 Iranians kidnapped by rebels in Syria, a deputy foreign minister said on Saturday, according to Iran's Fars news agency.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian did not say who Salehi met while in Qatar, whose government is a major supporter of rebels fighting to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's closest ally in the region.

Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow Assad seized the group of 48 Iranians in August, accusing them of being members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards sent to help Syrian government forces crush the uprising which began in March last year.

Iran says the group was on a religious pilgrimage and has called for their immediate release.

"During this trip in addition to the developments in Syria, specifically the 48 kidnapped Iranian pilgrims in Syria were discussed," Amir-Abdollahian said, according to Fars.

Iran has called on Turkey and Qatar to use their links with rebel groups to help secure their freedom.

The al-Baraa brigade, part of the main rebel group, the Free Syrian Army, said last week it would start killing the Iranians within 48 hours unless Assad freed Syrian opposition detainees and stopped shelling civilian areas.

But Qatar, following a request from Iran, urged the rebels not to carry out the threat. Amir-Abdollahian said on Saturday the kidnapped Iranians were in good health.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, also visited Qatar this week, Qatari news agencies reported. Saudi Arabia is also supporting the Syrian rebels.

There was no indication of any link between the two visits.

(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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