August 13, 2013
By Syria Direct news staff
AMMAN: An Italian priest who went missing more than two weeks ago in the rebel-controlled Syrian province of A-Raqqa is reportedly dead, according to a prominent activist.
“It’s with deep sorrow that I inform you that I was told by a reliable source that Father Paolo has been executed. May God have mercy of his soul,” wrote Lama al-Atassi, the secretary general of the Syrian National Front, on her personal Facebook page.
Father Paolo Dell’Oglio. Photo courtesy of Catholic News Service
Father Paolo dell’Oglio, 59, lived in Syria for three decades before being expelled by the Syrian regime after expressing support for the Syrian uprising. The priest, who founded the Mar Musa church outside Damascus, remains a popular figure among Syrians, known for promoting inter-faith dialogue and his positive ties with Muslims.
Dell’Oglio arrived in A-Raqqa at the end of July to negotiate with Al-Qaeda offshoot Islamic State of Iraq and Sham to ask for the release of local activists they have kidnapped in recent months.
The Italian Foreign Ministry said in a statement it has not yet confirmed the information. The Vatican on Tuesday said it cannot confirm reports that dell’Oglio is dead, with a spokesman saying they are “following the case.”
Also on Tuesday, Arabic news site Rozana FM reported an unnamed opposition source as saying an activist close to the Turkish border had received a text message that the Italian priest was still alive. The account could not be independently verified.
In A-Raqqa city, the only province in Syria completely under the control of rebels, protesters have been holding daily demonstrations to demand the release of arrested and kidnapped activists, including dell’Oglio, at the hand of the hardline Islamists currently ruling the provincial capital.
Over the past week, ISIS and the local Ahfad a-Rusul brigades have clashed in the city, with fighting breaking out after jihadis “attacked the headquarters of the brigades,” reported the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Arbitrary arrests, kidnappings, and other abuses have led to citizens holding regular protests demanding the foreign jihadists leave A-Raqqa.