By Arab News
More than 1,000 combatants sent from Iran to fight in support of President Bashar Assad in Syria have been killed in the conflict, the head of Iran’s veterans’ affairs office said Tuesday.
“The number of martyrs from our country defending the shrines has now passed 1,000,” Tasnim news agency quoted Mohammad Ali Shahidi Mahalati, the head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Affairs, as saying.
Iran has sent military advisers, as well as Shiite fighters recruited from Afghanistan and Pakistan, to work with Assad’s forces. They are known in Iran as “defenders of the shrines.”
The Fatemiyoun Division of Afghan recruits organized by Iran comprises the majority of volunteers sent from Iran to fight in Syria and Iraq.
Iranian media regularly report on the death in Syria of Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani “martyrs” whose bodies are buried in Iran.
The latest death toll is significantly higher than previous tallies, although no overall figures have been officially announced so far.
In August, Shahidi said Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs’ and Veterans’ Affairs was caring for 400 people related to fighters killed in action in Syria and Iraq, half of them Afghans.
“We immediately cover (the families) that the Quds Force announces to us,” he said, according to ILNA news agency, referring to the Guards’ foreign operations wing headed by Qassem Suleimani.
“We are waiting for the Quds Force to confirm the martyrdom” of more fighters, “so we can cover their families too,” he said at the time.
Iran in May passed a law allowing the government to grant citizenship to the families of foreigners killed while fighting for Tehran.
The law could apply to volunteers from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are fighting in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, the United States on Monday accused 13 Syrian commanders and prison officials of responsibility for attacks on cities, residential areas and civilian infrastructure as well as acts of torture.
US Ambassador Samantha Power read out the names of Maj. Gen. Adib Salameh, Brig. Gen. Adnan Aboud Hilweh, Maj. Gen. Jawdat Salbi Mawas, Col. Suhail Hassan, and Maj. General Tahir Hamid Khalil at a Security Council meeting, saying the international community is watching “and one day they will be held accountable.”
The detailed allegations appeared to be aimed at laying the groundwork for future war crimes prosecutions and marked an 11th hour attempt by the Obama administration to hold the Syrian government accountable for alleged atrocities.
Power accused the Assad regime and close ally Russia of continuing their “starve, get bombed, or surrender” strategy in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and stressed that this was not an isolated case.
“Across Syria, Russia and the Assad regime are waging a campaign that includes sieges, the blocking of humanitarian aid, the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, and the use of barrel bombs,” she said.
The US also knows where torture allegedly takes place in Syria, she said, citing four military intelligence branches, the Air Force Intelligence Investigation Branch in Mezzeh military airport, and the Tishreen and Harasta military hospitals.
Power named eight commanding officers and prison officials who work at these facilities saying the United States “will continue fighting to hold them accountable for their hateful crimes.”
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien strongly criticized the Assad regime for invoking national sovereignty “to bomb its own people.” He said the number of Syrians living in areas besieged mainly by government forces has more than doubled in the past year to nearly one million people.
“It is a deliberate tactic of cruelty to compound a people’s suffering for political, military and in some cases economic gain, to destroy and defeat a civilian population who cannot fight back,” O’Brien said.
Separately, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told a conference hosted by his Social Democrat party that despite all their differences, opposition groups in Syria agree that there cannot be a future with Assad.
Steinmeier repeated his call for an end to the bombardment of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo and other parts of the country, and said a transition plan was needed to get to a political solution for ending the civil war there.
He said there were discussions about bringing humanitarian relief supplies into Aleppo via Turkey, but there were no guarantees for success.