Four Italian journalists who were being held hostage in Syria have been freed, Prime Minister Mario Monti has said in a statement.
The four, three freelancers and a reporter, working for the Italian public broadcaster RAI, had been abducted sometime between April 5 and 6 while filming in northern Syria.
Monti’s statement on Saturday did not provide any details of how the four were released, only thanking those involved for professionalism that “enabled a positive outcome of this affair, which was made all the more complicated by the extreme danger of the situation”.
Local media reports said the four were currently in Turkey.
In February, an Italian citizen and two Russians kidnapped on December 12 in the west of Syria were freed as part of an exchange for fighters.
Abductions for religious, political or purely financial reasons are becoming increasingly frequent in Syria which has been racked by more than two years of civil war.
Syria’s government on April 2 offered kidnappers an amnesty deal, giving them 15 days to hand over victims or face sentences ranging from life with hard labour to execution, if their victims were murdered or sexually abused.
Meanwhile, at least 12 civilians were killed in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province in government air strike, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Saturday.
An air raid killed the civilians, four of which were members of the same family. Many others were wounded and the death toll was expected to rise, the Observatory said.
In another attack, at least 12 opposition fighters were killed south of Saraqeb, outside of the town of Maaret al-Numan on the Damascus-Aleppo highway, after Syrian government troops trying to relieve a besieged military base ambushed an opposition-held checkpoint.
Observatory director Rami Abdul-Rahman said the assault was part of government efforts to resupply the embattled military base at Wadi Deif, which they must pass through opposition-held territory to reach.
Opposition fighters have gained much of the countryside of Idlib and other provinces in northern Syria from President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, although government troops still control many military bases in the region from which they launch attacks, including air strikes, on opposition-held areas.
The Syrian government’s air power is its biggest advantage in the civil war, and it has used its warplanes to try to check rebel advances.
Earlier this week, Human Rights Watch said in a report titled “Death from the Skies” that Assad’s government has committed war crimes by indiscriminate and sometimes deliberate air strikes against civilians, killing at least 4,300 people since July last year.
Also on Saturday, Syrian state-run daily Al-Thawra accused UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi of being a “false witness”.
The daily said he had taken sides in the conflict and that his upcoming briefing at the UN “will not alleviate the suffering of Syrians”.
Brahimi angered the Syrian government in December by saying that the four-decade rule of the Assad family had gone on “too long”.
Brahimi is scheduled to address the UN Security Council on Thursday.