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Iranian general seems to confirm troops are in Syria in interview blunder

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April 17, 2012: Iranian troops march during a military parade commemorating National Army Day in front of the mausoleum of the late revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini, outside Tehran, Iran. (AP)

In an apparent slip-up, an Iranian general has admitted that special forces have been deployed from Tehran to Syria to assist the Assad regime's crackdown against the anti-government uprising.

The Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA) published an interview with General Ismail Qa'ani, deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, on Sunday night, in which he praised his troops for crushing opposition forces in Syria -- saying the Quds' presence helped prevent civilian massacres.

"Before we were not in Syria, the slaughter of the people by the opposition was much higher. But with the presence of the Islamic Republic in a physical and non-physical manner, many great massacres in Syria were stopped." Gha'ani said in the interview, according to The (London) Times.

The quote was removed by the ISNA within hours and without explanation, but not before other media outlets discovered it. Gha'ani was said to have been speaking at a student event on Sunday evening.  

Tehran is allied to Damascus, and rumors that Iran is providing military support to President Bashar al Assad have circulated since the uprising began 15 months ago. Anti-government fighters have reportedly told of how they encountered Iranians in battle.

But this is considered to be the first time a senior Iranian officer has admitted the Quds force is operating in Syria.

Gha'ani's comments follow the deaths of 108 people on Friday, mostly women and children, in the Syrian town of Houla -- a bloody event that has drawn international condemnation, even as the killing continued in other parts of the nation.

Regime loyalists have blamed rebels for the Houla massacre, while opposition forces said it was the result of an army assault. While tanks and artillery were used in the horror, some of the dead were stabbed or shot at point-blank range.