Italian priest kidnapped in Syria

An Italian Jesuit priest who was thrown out of Syria by President Bashar al-Assad has been kidnapped after re-entering the country, according to media reports on Tuesday.

Italian priest kidnapped in Syria
Paolo Dall'Oglio, who lived in Syria for 30 years, is thought to have been kidnapped. Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Father Paolo Dall'Oglio was walking in the rebel-held city of Raqqa in the east of Syria when he was abducted by a group linked to al-Qaeda, Reuters reported.

Members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant were angered by the priest’s criticism of violence against Kurds on the Turkish border, Reuters said.

On Monday night Kristyan Benedict, a campaign manager for Amnesty International, said a source had informed him that the priest was safe. The priest would update his Facebook page within 30 minutes, Benedict said on Twitter, although no news has been posted to date.

The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs told The Local it was currently looking into the reported kidnapping.

Dall’Oglio was expelled from Syria by the Assad regime in June 2012 after holding a memorial service for an opposition activist. It is not known when he re-entered the country, although a number of people have been smuggled across the Lebanese border in recent months.

The priest is also known to be an outspoken critic of the regime and its reaction to the two-year uprising, which has left 100,000 people dead.

“How can we stay silent? We are in solidarity with the repression, not only because we don’t denounce the repression, but also because we negate there is repression,” he told The New York Times after being kicked out of the country.

In December he was awarded a peace prize by the region of Lombardy for his efforts to foster dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Syria.

Dall’Oglio lived in Syria for more than 30 years and is widely praised for his efforts to restore the Deir Mar Musa monastery north of Damascus.

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Syrian war documentary wins top Venice prizes

A film that follows two friends through four nightmarish years of the Syrian civil war has lifted some of the top prizes at the Venice film festival, which ends Saturday.

Syrian war documentary wins top Venice prizes
The Venice film festival ends on Saturday. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP
“Still Recording”, a documentary by Ghiath Ayoub and Saeed Al Batal, records what happened to two idealistic art students after they were swept up in the fervour of the Syrian revolution. It picked up two awards at Venice Critics' Week.
Friends Saeed and Milad leave Damascus and go to Douma in 2011, a suburb under rebel control, to set up a radio station and recording studio. There they struggle to keep a flicker of hope and creativity alive as they endure fighting, siege and famine.
Ayoub and Al Batal, who shot 500 hours of footage, told AFP that with so little reporting coming out of Syria it was important to bear witness.
“We started doing this because there wasn't, and still isn't, an efficient working media in Syria because it's not allowed to enter and if it is, it's under the control of the regime,” said Al Batal.
“Art is nothing if it is not resistance, even if there isn't revolution… it is resistance against a huge amount of emotions you have got inside you. Emotions need to come out and expressing them through art can do that.”
The win comes as the Syrian regime and its Russian allies are preparing to launch an assault on Idlib, the northern province that is the last major stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups which have been trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad for the past seven years.
Al Batal said the situation in Syria “is more dangerous than ever now” because the Russian military are more ruthless than Assad's badly trained soldiers.
“They know where to hit, and how to hit hard,” said Al Batal, who said the “media army behind them” was the same.