TEHRAN -- Scores of families bearing wreaths of flowers crowded Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport on Thursday to greet the hostages released this week in Syria, who rejoined their families tearfully after months in captivity. One was hoisted joyfully onto relatives' shoulders.
“It was very difficult,” another freed man said on Iranian state television, tears falling from his eyes as his stood alongside his daughter. He thanked officials for working to secure their release.
Iranian officials described the 48 freed hostages as Shiite Muslim pilgrims, abducted more than five months ago on their way to the Damascus airport. Syrian rebels who seized the Iranians claimed the prisoners were part of the elite Revolutionary Guard forces sent to Syria to help its embattled President Bashar Assad. Iran is a key ally of the Syrian government.
The Iranians were freed in exchange for thousands of detainees held by the Syrian government, a rare pause in the ruthless clashes between Syrian forces and rebels.