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SYRIA

Isis may not have Italian captives: government

Italy’s undersecretary of foreign affairs on Friday dismissed reports that two Italian aid workers captured 20 days ago in Syria are in the hands of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis), Italian media reported.

Isis may not have Italian captives: government
Greta Ramelli (left) and Vanessa Marzullo were captured in Syria in July. Photo: Facebook

On Thursday Britain’s the Guardian newspaper said that two Italian women are reported to be among four new captives being held by the same Isis militants who beheaded American journalist James Foley.

The news sparked fears that the two women could be the Italian aid workers, 21-year-old Vanessa Marzullo and Greta Ramelli, 20, who went missing near Aleppo in July.

However, on Friday Italy's undersecretary of foreign affairs, Mario Giro, said "to our knowledge" the women had not been kidnapped by Isis. He urged “the utmost discretion” on the matter, La Stampa reported.

Meanwhile, the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi has suggested that the two girls were kidnapped by a group of rebels who have nothing to do with Isis. It said that they are well and will soon be released.

In its report on Thursday, the Guardian said Isis jihadists had kidnapped two Italian women along with a Dane and a Japanese national.

The news came just one day after the release of a horrific video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley. 

The Guardian reported that the four hostages were either reporters, photographers or aid workers and were abducted near Aleppo or Idlib. It did not cite sources or give the names of the hostages.

The Local Denmark: Isis takes Dane hostage in Syria

Speaking to La Repubblica on Thursday, Ramelli’s mother Antonella said the family was “doubly worried now. How could we be otherwise?”

“I’m sure we will have some good news in the next few days, but we cannot say anything more,” she added.

According to the Guardian, the man who murdered Foley is leading the group of militants holding the foreign captives.

“The English jihadist who beheaded the American journalist James Foley is believed to be the leader of a group of British fighters holding foreign hostages in Syria,” the paper said.

The capture of Marzullo and Ramelli comes a year after Paolo Dall'Oglio, an Italian priest, is believed to have been abducted by Isis.

The priest lived in Syria for more than 30 years and had been thrown out of the country for his open opposition to the violent government crack-down on popular protest. Dall'Oglio however chose to return to Syria in July 2013, reportedly to negotiate the release of hostages, when he went missing in the rebel-held city of Raqqa.

There has been little information on the fate of the priest, with conflicting reports following his disappearance on whether he had been killed or was being held by the militant group.

READ MORE: Hopes for Italian priest's release in Syria

Over the past year two Italians have been freed by hostage-takers in Syria. Swiss-Italian aid worker Federico Motka was released in May, more than a year after he was abducted from the Atmeh refugee camp on the border with Turkey.

In September last year Domenico Quirico, a journalist working for La Stampa newspaper, returned to Italy after being held hostage in Syria for five months.

He said that he and his fellow captive, Beglian Pierre Piccinin, were "treated like animals" and subjected to two mock executions.

"During those interminable moments, I felt ashamed…It is your own fear that enrages you," Quirico said in September.

READ MORE: 'Even children and old people tried to hurt us'

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FILM

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.