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Rebel group which kidnapped of 48 Iranians in Damascus says three of its hostages were killed in Syrian army shelling.

Last modified: 6 Aug 2012 22:55

A Syrian rebel group which has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 48 Iranians in Damascus said three of its hostages were killed in shelling by government troops on Monday.

Al-Baraa Brigade of the Free Syrian Army announced on its Facebook page that "three of the Iranian prisoners were killed in fierce shelling today in Damascus".

It threatened that its leader, Abdel Nasser Shmeir, would "execute the prisoners who are proven members of the Revolutionary Guard if the shelling continues," in a statement.

Al-Arabiya television aired a video on Sunday showing the abducted Iranians surrounded by gunmen who charged they were elite Revolutionary Guards on a "reconnaissance mission."

Iran has denied its kidnapped nationals are Revolutionary Guards, insisting they were pilgrims visiting Shiite holy sites.

Tehran is the staunchest ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces are locked in a nearly 17-month conflict against rebels his regime describes as "terrorists".

Many of the rebels come from Syria's Sunni majority, which is hostile to the support Shia Iran has shown to the regime of Assad, whose family is Alawite, a Shia offshoot.