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Italian man held hostage in Syria since 2016 freed

This video image released on July 31, 2018, and provided courtesy of SITE Intelligence Group shows Italian national, Alessandro Sandrini, appealing for his release as two armed men stand behind him in Syria.(AFP Photo)
An Italian man held hostage in Syria since April 2016 has been freed and is returning home, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Friday.

Sergio Zanotti, a businessman from Brescia, was seized in southern Turkey near the Syrian border three years ago, his family said.

Very little news was ever released about his abduction, with the government in Rome eager to maintain radio silence as they sought to gain his release.

"At the end of a complex and delicate intelligence, investigative and diplomatic operation ... we have today managed to obtain the release of Sergio Zanotti," Conte's office said in a statement.

"Our compatriot appears in a good general condition and in a few hours he will return to Italy, to Rome," it added, giving no details of who had held him or how he was freed.

His abductors posted at least two videos of Zanotti during his captivity. In one he was shown kneeling between two masked gunmen and looking straight at the camera. Wearing a blue t-shirt and sporting a long, grey beard, he appealed to the government in Rome to intervene and prevent his execution.