Jalili was quoted as saying that the only way to resolve the unrest in the country would be to find a “Syrian solution.”
Jalili’s visit to Damascus was also aimed in part at seeking ways to secure the release of 48 Iranians captured by rebels just outside the capital on Saturday.
The Iranian government claims that its captured nationals were Shiite pilgrims on their way to Sayida Zeinab, a Muslim shrine south of Damascus that is popular with Shiites. But rebels assert that the Iranians belong to their country’s elite Revolutionary Guard Corps and were on a mission to help the Assad government battle Syria’s persistent 17-month-long uprising.
“Kidnapping innocent people is not acceptable anywhere in the world,” Jalili said, according to Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency. He said Iran would do what it could to “secure release of the 48 innocent pilgrims kidnapped in Syria.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also traveled to Turkey on Tuesday in an additional diplomatic push to free the captives. The government of Turkey is close to the Syrian opposition.
The fate of the Iranians remained clear Tuesday. Three members of the group were reportedly killed by government shelling on Monday, according to rebels from the Free Syrian Army.
In a letter Tuesday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Salehi referred to “media reports” about the three deaths and said that “the hostage takers have threatened to kill the remaining captives in the coming hours.” He said the Iranians were abducted while “on their way to the Damascus Airport.” The letter requested Ban’s help in securing the immediate release of the Iranians.
Late on Monday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss charge d’affaires in Tehran to protest the kidnapping and emphasize that the U.S. government would be held responsible for the fate of the Iranians. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran has represented U.S. interests in the country since Iran and the United States officially severed diplomatic ties in 1980.
Before going to Damascus, Jalili stopped in Lebanon on Monday, stirring the ire of Lebanese political factions opposed to Assad. “The visit is against the interest of the Lebanese people who stand by their brothers in Syria,” former prime minister Saad Hariri said in a statement. He added, “Iran should know that all these threats and suspicious moves will not delay the fall of its ally Bashar al-Assad.”
Jalili’s visit came a day after Syria’s prime minister defected to Jordan, becoming the most senior official to quit Assad’s embattled government, according to rebels who claim they helped him escape.