(TEHRAN, Iran) -- Iran admitted for the first time since a busload of its nationals was abducted near Damascus, Syria last weekend that some on board were "retired members" of the elite Revolutionary Guard.
Tehran maintains that all 48 were Shiite pilgrims on their way to a shrine in Syria when they were taken hostage by a rebel group with ties to the Free Syrian Army.
The kidnappers contend that the bus was filled with current members of Iran's elite guard and that they were sent by Iran to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad put down the 18-month-long rebellion that has cost 20,000 lives, according to some estimates.
Three of the captives were alleged to have died during a government shelling in Damascus, the rebels said, and the rest were threatened with death if the attacks don't stop.
Iran has asked Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, which all support the Syrian opposition, to intervene while continuing to hold the U.S. responsible for the safety of their nationals.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio