DUBAI – Al Arabiya television aired footage on Sunday it said it had obtained from Syrian rebels of Iranians kidnapped in Damascus, in which the rebels charge the hostages are elite Revolutionary Guards.

Fighters of the Al Baraa Brigade of the rebel Free Syrian Army have  "captured 48 of the shabiha (militiamen) of Iran who were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus," said a man dressed as an FSA officer in the video screened by the Dubai-based channel.

"During the investigation, we found that some of them were officers in the Revolutionary Guards," he said, showing documents taken from one of the men, who appeared in the background.

In the footage, a group of men appeared sitting on the floor, while gunmen behind them carried the old Syrian flag that has been adopted by the rebels.

"God is great," the gunmen chanted as the bearded officer finished reading his statement.

Abdel Nasser Shmeir, interviewed later by Al Arabiya and presented as the commander of Al Baraa Brigade, gave similar details.

"They are 48, in addition to an Afghani interpreter," he said, claiming that the captives were members of a 150-strong group sent by Iran for "reconnaissance on the ground."

Iran has appealed to governments with close relations with the Syrian opposition for help in securing the release of the 48 hostages it says were pilgrims visiting the Sayyida Zeinab shrine, a Shiite pilgrimage site in the southeastern suburbs of Damascus.

Shmeir said his men "have not yet entered into any contacts" about the hostages.