A rebel group in Sunni-dominated Syria abducted seven Iranian nationals in the flashpoint city of Homs.
While the seven Iranians reportedly worked as engineers at a local power plant, and are said to be safe, their detention highlights majority Shiite Iran’s overarching role in the region – and the potential of sectarian conflict in the Syrian uprising.
According to AFP, which reported the kidnapping on Wednesday:
An unknown group calling itself the "Movement Against the Expansion of Shiism in Syria" on Monday claimed responsibility for their abduction in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia […]
[…] It said it was opposed to Iran's support of the Syrian government and of the Hezbollah militia in neighbouring Lebanon.
Iran has indeed long held sway over both the Syrian government and Shiite Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, even as Syria’s Assad regime grapples with a 10-month-long uprising, which now boasts Homs as its epicenter.
Hezbollah’s Al Manar television station on Tuesday expressed its support for the Assad government. It posted a video (Arabic with French subtitles) on its YouTube channel showing Syrians telling Arab League monitors they were victimized by “armed gangs” opposed to the government, according to the New York Times Lede Blog.
In a report today, NPR says:
The Sunni powers, led by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, have lined up to support the protests. Meanwhile, Syria's allies — Iran, Iraq and Hezbollah, the Shiite power in Lebanon — stand against them.
A sectarian war in Syria would inflame the broader region. Fears of that nightmare scenario have left some countries paralyzed when it comes policy choices, discouraged international intervention and has helped keep the Assad regime in power.