By Golnaz Esfandiari, RFE/RL
A senior Iranian lawmaker says around six Iranian military personnel have been taken captive in Syria following May 6 clashes with Islamist insurgents that left 13 "military advisers" dead and more than a dozen injured.
The statement by Esmail Kowsari appears to be the first official confirmation by Tehran that its fighters have been taken prisoner in Syria.
Islamist insurgents known as Jaish al-Fatah that carried out the attack on Khan Tuman, some 15 kilometers southwest of Aleppo, had previously posted photographs on social media purportedly showing Iran-backed forces that had been killed or taken captive in the village.
It was Iran's biggest loss of forces in a single day since the Islamic republic deployed military forces to bolster its regional ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Tehran claims it is providing Assad with military advisers.
"According to the latest figures I have, 13 Iranian defenders of the shrine were killed, 18 were wounded, and five to six Iranians were taken captive," lawmaker Kowsari said in a May 9 interview with the website Jamejamonline.ir.
"Defenders of the shrine" is a phrase used to describe Iranian and other Shi'ite forces, including Afghans who are reportedly trained and deployed in Syria by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and the Basij force.
Kowsari appeared to blame the United States for Iran's heavy casualties.
"As [Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei] has repeatedly maintained, America cannot be trusted," he said.
Kowsari added: "On the one hand, America speaks of peace and a cease-fire. But in practice, it acts differently."
Another lawmaker, Mohammad Saleh Jokar, also confirmed that several Iranian security personnel were killed and captured in Khan Tuman, though he did not provide any numbers.
Jokar also blamed the United States.
"What happened in Khan Tuman in past days demonstrates that America cannot be trusted, as the cease-fire in that region had been established by the Americans," Jokar was quoted as saying by domestic media.
"The U.S. should be held accountable for what happened in Khan Tuman and explain why the cease-fire was violated," he said.
Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, warned that Iran will respond to the Khan Tuman incident along with its allies -- Russia, Syria, and the Lebanese militant group Hizballah.
Fighting in Aleppo has escalated despite a February "cessation of hostilities" agreement backed by the United States and Russia.
Earlier this week, Washington and Moscow said they had brokered a cease-fire between the Syrian government and rebels around the city of Aleppo.
The two former Cold War foes said in a May 9 joint statement that they have agreed to "redouble efforts" to find a political solution to the Syrian conflict and "intensify efforts" to ensure the nationwide implementation of the cease-fire.
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