Italian fishermen return home after being held in Libya for three months

Eighteen Italian fishermen have been released after being held prisoner in Libya for more than three months, ending a tense political standoff.

Italian fishermen return home after being held in Libya for three months
Fishing boats in the port at Mazara del Vallo, Sicily. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
The fishermen are returning home to their families following the ordeal, Italy's prime minister and foreign minister said on Thursday after visiting Benghazi to secure their release.
“Our fishermen are free,” Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio posted on Facebook, alongside a picture of the men, who were held for 108 days by militiawho accused them of fishing in Libyan territorial waters.
“In a few hours they will be able to hug their families and loved ones.”
Conte tweeted a picture of the men with the comment “Have a good trip home”.

In the Italians' hometown of Mazara del Vallo in Sicily, there were cheers, hugs and tears of joy among relatives and friends who gathered in the local council chamber to hear the news.
“The fishermen have already spoken with their families and are on board their two fishing boats, Antartide and Medinea,” which had also been seized,
local mayor Salvatore Quinci said.
He reported one of the fishermen telling his wife: “I have to leave you now and end the phone call, because I have to start the boat's engine.”
Relatives of the fishermen waiting for news in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, on Thursday. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
The plight of the fishermen has gripped Italy since they were seized on September 1st by the forces of strongman Khalifa Haftar, who controls Benghazi, amid a long-running dispute over fishing grounds between Sicily and Libya.
Di Maio said he and Conte had met with Haftar, who is waging war against the UN-recognised government of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in the west.
“The government continues to firmly support the stabilisation process in Libya,” he said.
The fishermen of Mazara del Vallo have for generations relied on Mediterranean waters north of Libya for their livelihoods but see their futures increasingly threatened.
Mazara del Vallo, part of the province of Trapani in Sicily, is less than 200 km from the Tunisian coast of North Africa.
A fisherman displays the prized red prawns in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, on Thursday. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
The area is a prime fishing ground for the gambero rosso, or red prawn, a crustacean prized by gourmet chefs which can sell for up to 70 euros a kilo.
As fish stocks have dwindled and trawler capabilities improved, their boats have sailed further from port and into waters over which Libya has claimed
Seizues of Italian fishing boats became more frequent in 2005 when Libya's then leader Moamer Kadhafi proclaimed that he was extending its fishing zone from 12 to 74 nautical miles from the coast, in defiance of international standards.

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Italy’s government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

Italy's new government issued a decree on Thursday to continue sending weapons to Ukraine through 2023, continuing the previous administration's policy of support to Kyiv.

Italy's government to continue sending weapons to Ukraine in 2023

The decree extends to December 31, 2023 an existing authorisation for “the transfer of military means, materials and equipment to the government authorities of Ukraine,” according to a government statement.

Since taking office in October, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has repeatedly voiced her support for Kyiv while underlying the importance of the Atlantic alliance.

In her first speech to parliament, the leader of the Brothers of Italy party pledged to “continue to be a reliable partner of NATO in supporting Ukraine.”

Her predecessor Mario Draghi was a staunch supporter of Kyiv, but the issue of sending arms to Ukraine split the biggest party in parliament during his coalition government, the Five Star Movement.

That friction led to the early elections that brought Meloni to power.

Parliament now has 60 days to vote the decree into law.

READ ALSO: Outcry in Italy after Berlusconi defends Putin’s invasion of Ukraine

Despite Meloni’s efforts to reassure her Western allies of Italy’s support for the EU’s and NATO’s Ukraine strategy, including sanctions on Russia, the close ties to Russia of her two coalition partners have come under scrutiny.

Both Matteo Salvini of the League party and former premier Silvio Berlusconi, who leads Forza Italia, have long enjoyed warm relations with Russia.

In October, an audio tape of Berlusconi was leaked to the media in which the former premier described how he had received a birthday present of vodka from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In the tape, he also expressed concerns about sending weapons and cash to Kyiv and appeared to blame the war on Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Berlusconi later issued a statement saying his personal position on Ukraine “does not deviate” from that of Italy and the EU.

Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, Salvini, too, has come under fire for his relations with Moscow, including a report that he dined with Russia’s ambassador to Rome just days after that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Salvini, who has criticised EU sanctions as ineffective, has long admired Putin, even wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Russian leader’s face.