Italian and Belgian freed after being kidnapped in Syria

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 08, 2013 4:00 PM
Italian and Belgian freed after being kidnapped in Syria

ROME (Reuters) - Italian journalist Domenico Quirico and Belgian teacher and writer Pierre Piccinin da Prata have been freed after being kidnapped in Syria in early April, officials said on Sunday.

Quirico, a veteran reporter for La Stampa daily with long experience reporting on conflicts in Africa and the Middle East, entered Syria on April 6 but disappeared four days later.

He spoke briefly by phone to his wife in June confirming he had been kidnapped but said he was in good health.

"We never lost hope and all the efforts made over the past months have been crowned with success," Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta said in a statement confirming both men had been released and were on their way to Italy.

The news was confirmed in a tweet by Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo who said he shared the emotion and relief of the men's families.

There was no immediate word on who was responsible for kidnapping the two men, who were reported to have been travelling together when they were taken.

Their release comes amid growing international tensions over the civil war in Syria, which has cost an estimated 100,000 lives. President Bashar al-Assad is accused by many western countries of using chemical weapons, and the United States and France are considering military action in response.

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Italy has condemned the government in Damascus, which denies using the banned weapons, but has refused to join military action without a clear mandate from the United Nations.

Four other Italian journalists were kidnapped in Syria in April but were released after little more than a week.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; editing by Andrew Roche)