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LA STAMPA

Vittorio Arrigoni: The Pro-Palestinian Activist Who Defied Gaza Threats

A portrait of Italian activist and journalist Vittorio Arrigoni who was found dead in the Gaza Strip early on Friday, following his abduction on Thursday. His mother had been expecting him back home.

Francesco Moscatelli

"It was like a hammer to the head. Vittorio had been planning to return to Italy. We only heard an hour ago, one of his friends called to tell us what happened. It seems they kidnapped him around 10 o'clock in the morning. The Foreign Ministry has told us to stay calm, that they are working on it, and that in situations like these you need to keep a low-profile. But then, when you see your son's face like that…"

Talking on Thursday afternoon when there was still hope he would be released, Egidia Berretta, the mother of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Gaza-based, Italian pro-Palestinian activist and blogger was referring to a photograph that had been released, showing him bruised and blindfolded after being kidnapped by Islamic militants. His body was found Friday morning.

On Thursday, the telephone in the family home in this small northern Italian town of Bulciago was ringing off the hook as reporters, friends and supporters of Vittorio called for news. "Tell them to wait a moment. In a minute I'll speak with them too," said Mrs. Beretta, with the trembling voice of someone trying to remain calm. "In Gaza, everyone loves him. He's got this way of winning people over immediately. He went back to Gaza in January 2010 and after having spent a year witnessing all the good and bad things that happen in those places, he wanted to take a break, and to come back home," Mrs. Beretta said. She had always supported her adventurous son.

Was Vittorio Arrigoni irresponsible? An idealist? This 36-year-old activist, with a typical Arabic keffiyeh around his neck and a Che Guevara-style beret, who signed himself off as "Vik Utopia" at the bottom of his Guerilla Radio blog or articles on the Peace Reporter website, was used to ferocious criticism as well as praise.

It all began in the summer of 2008, when Vittorio decided to leave his job at his father's electrical appliances company and evenings spent drinking beer with friends for a more risky enterprise.

He joined a group that included Tony Blair" s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, and 40 other activists from the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), sailing from Greece aboard an old fishing boat to the Gaza Strip in a bid to break Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory. Such an act had not been attempted since 1967.

Since then, Arrigoni lived many adventures. He received the honorary citizenship of Gaza; he was detained by Israel's Navy while he was acting as a human shield aboard of a Palestinian boat; he became a constant source of distress for the Italian consulate in Jerusalem; and he was threatened both by Islamic extremists and Israeli far-right extremists. Put his name into Google and one of the first links to pop up reads "Kill Vittorio Arrigoni" and includes Arrigoni's identikit, complete with his picture and his personal details, in order to identify and kill him.

Vittorio used to shrug off the threats and kept up his work of bearing witness to what was going on in Gaza. "I'm not leaving," he wrote in January 2009, during the Israeli action known as "Operation Cast Lead." "The international press is stuck at the borders. Someone must tell what is really happening. I'm seeing it with my own eyes." He always embraced a Palestinian point of view. "Four workers died last night due to the collapse of a Palestinian tunnel to cross the Rafah border," he wrote on a blog post, just a few days ago. "All the goods necessary to keep alive the Gaza population -- which is being slowly killed by Israel's criminal siege -- arrive via those tunnels."

On April 13, Arrigoni's last blog post was about the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's arrest. On Thursday, nothing was posted on the blog. "I have really no clue about what might have happened," his mother said, hanging up the telephone and turning on the evening news. The next morning the news was what every mother dreads.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

A Decisive Spring? How Ukraine Plans To Beat Back Putin's Coming Offensive

The next months will be decisive in the war between Moscow and Kyiv. From the forests of Polesia to Chernihiv and the Black Sea, Ukraine is looking to protect the areas that may soon be the theater of Moscow's announced offensive. Will this be the last Russian Spring?

Photo of three ​Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers in trenches near Bakhmut, Ukraine

Anna Akage

Ukrainian forces are digging new fortifications and preparing battle plans along the entire frontline as spring, and a probable new Russian advance, nears.

But this may be the last spring for occupying Russian forces.

"Spring and early summer will be decisive in the war. If the great Russian offensive planned for this time fails, it will be the downfall of Russia and Putin," said Vadym Skibitsky, the deputy head of Ukrainian military intelligence.

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Skinitysky added that Ukraine believes Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer. The Institute for the Study of War thinks that such an offensive is more likely to come from the occupied territories of Luhansk and Donetsk than from Belarus, as some have feared.

Still, the possibility of an attack by Belarus should not be dismissed entirely — all the more so because, in recent weeks, a flurry of MiG fighter jet activity in Belarusian airspace has prompted a number of air raid alarms throughout Ukraine.

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