Middle East

Footage claims to show Iranians in Syria

Still from footage purporting to show Iranian fighters in Syria
Image caption The tapes appear to show Iranian fighters among Syrian pro-government forces

Footage has surfaced on the internet that gives the first tangible indication of Iran's involvement in the fighting in Syria on the side of the government forces, reports BBC Persian's Kasra Naji.

Information that can be gleaned from the footage indicates that the Iranian fighters are part of the Revolutionary Guard - most probably from its elite overseas operations arm, the Quds Force. It also suggest that Tehran is training Syrian fighters back in Iran.

The footage was uploaded by a group of Syrian opposition fighters who say they have captured the tapes after overrunning a government forces' base.

They say the tapes belonged to an Iranian cameraman who was killed in the fighting. There are apparently several hours of the footage, some of which has been posted on the internet.

The tapes show at least five Iranians wearing military fatigues among a larger group of pro-government Syrian fighters.

According to the conversations heard in the footage between the Iranians, they are somewhere to the south of the northern Syrian city of Aleppo.

Filmmaker death

Image caption Some of the footage is shot during combat, with the constant sound of bullets

The uploaded footage also shows that they and the rest of the fighters are stationed at a building that looks like a school with notices posted on the walls both in Arabic and in Persian - indicating that the number of Iranians might be well more than the few that we see in the footage.

At one point the camera falls to the ground and the view goes black as bullets are heard whistling by.

The Iranians seem to be in command of the group. One of them is seen speaking to the camera saying that he has been in Syria for about a year - the last five months of that in his current location.

In the footage, aired by Dutch TV network NOS, the commander also says that they are fighting as part of the National Defence Force - a growing force made up of various militias and volunteers in Syria.

He says the Syrian fighters are friendly with their Iranian counterparts and at ease fighting alongside them because they were trained in Iran and are familiar with Iranians and their attitudes.

Research shows that the commander on camera is Ismail Haidari, a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

According to the Iranian media, he was killed in Syria around the middle of last month. His funeral was held in a northern Iranian town a few days later.

At around the same time, Iranian media reported that an Iranian filmmaker was also killed in Syria.

Image caption Some of the footage seems to be of Iranian fighters in buildings being used as command centres

It is possible that he was the cameraman whose footage is now in the hands of Syrian opposition.

Sources say that he may have been himself a member of the Revolutionary Guards and was filming his comrades as part of a project conceived to help recruitment and other internal uses.

Alliance 'to the end'

The Syrian opposition has long maintained that Iranian troops are fighting alongside Syrian government forces in Syria.

But Iran has denied that it has fighters in Syria - although a top Revolutionary Guards commander admitted last year that its personnel were in Syria in the capacity of advisers.

Last year, a busload of Iranian men were seized by opposition forces and held for several months before they were released in an exchange of prisoners.

During that episode it was clear that many of those who had been captured were members of the Revolutionary Guards. There have also been persistent reports that Iran has been increasing arms deliveries to Syria.

But this footage indicates that Iran is getting increasingly involved militarily.

Tehran has also recently given Syria several billion dollars of credit to shore up the Syrian economy.

Iran has vowed that it will never allow the Syrian regime to fall. Only last week, the commander of the Quds Force, Qasem Soleimani, told a gathering of top clerics in Tehran that Iran would back President Assad "to the end".