Syrians Exchange Prisoners, Brahimi Criticizes Assad
The Syrian government released 2,139 prisoners in exchange for 48 Iranians held by rebel forces on Wednesday, the largest swap to occur since the beginning of the conflict. Reportedly among the released prisoners was Rima Dali, a Syrian human rights advocate arrested in November for a peaceful protest in Damascus. Dali’s arrest had become a focal point for other rights activists, who accused the Syrian government of forcing her disappearance. No Americans appeared to be among those released, according to the U.S. State Department.
Reactions to the exchange included concerns over what the move indicated about Iran’s influence in Syria and President Bashar al-Assad‘s attitude toward the Syrian people. The Syrian National Council claimed that the swap “exposes the extent of the Syrian regime’s dependence on Tehran.” Additionally, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “the regime chose to swap people that it was holding not for Syrian citizens…but instead for Iranians, further indicating how much they value the life of their own citizens versus the surrogates who are propping them up.”
Meanwhile, actors across the region addressed the ongoing conflict through statements and meetings. U.N. Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi employed strong language to describe Assad’s recent speech to the nation, characterizing the president’s plan as “perhaps even more sectarian, more one-sided.” The Syrian government criticized Brahimi, accusing him of bias in favor of the West and of having “diverted from the core of his mission.” Elsewhere, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi met with his counterpart, Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, in Cairo on Thursday to discuss plans for the resolution of the Syrian conflict. Brahimi will also meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in Geneva on Friday to discuss Syria.