Italy marks three years since start of Syria war

Italy's foreign minister and the mayor of Rome will on Friday participate in a candlelight vigil to mark three years since the start of the Syrian civil war, a conflict which has displaced 40 percent of the population and left more than 146,000 people dead.

Italy marks three years since start of Syria war
A father whose eight-year-old girl was fatally wounded in Aleppo, Syria, cries while being treated in hospital. Photo: Javier Manzano/AFP

Minister Federica Mogherini will join Mayor Ignazio Marino outside Rome’s city hall, which will be illuminated in red light this evening, for the event organized by Save the Children Italia.

The politicians will be joined by a representative from the UN’s refugee agency, to mark three years since the Syrian regime launched its crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Rome’s event is part of the international #WithSyria campaign, with vigils planned across Europe and around the world.

Since clashes in March 2011 the crisis has descended into a civil war between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and a divided opposition which includes both citizen protesters and extremist foreign fighters.

While the UN has stopped updating its death toll, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Thursday said more than 146,000 people have now been killed.

In February, Emma Bonino, then Italy’s foreign minister, described the conflict as “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time”.

The international community “should immediately achieve tangible results for the Syrian population…too much time has already passed, we cannot consign the Syrian tragedy to oblivion,” Bonino said.

The Save the Children campaign has attracted wide support in Italy, including from Serie A football club Fiorentina. “Just because it doesn’t happen here it doesn’t mean it’s not happening,” the club tweeted earlier this week.

Thousands of Syrian refugees have travelled to Italy since the start of the war, many taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to reach European shores. Italy has struggled to cope with the number of new arrivals and, due to EU law, many Syrians have found themselves stuck in the country despite wanting to travel elsewhere.

READ MORE: Syrian refugees stranded at Milan rail hub

As part of international efforts to end the conflict, the Italian government in January agreed to host a transfer of the Syrian regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons. While the move faced fierce opposition from residences in Gioia Tauro, the southern port was described by the government as being a “particularly appropriate” site for the operation.

READ MORE: Calabrian port to host Syria chemical transfer

View a gallery of vigils around the world:

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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.