'Fairly recent' proof that French reporters held in Syria are alive: Paris

PARIS (AFP) - Paris has "fairly recent" proof that four French journalists kidnapped in war-torn Syria are alive, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a television interview on Thursday.

The four were seized in two separate incidents in June in what has become the world's most dangerous place for journalists.

On June 6, unknown men detained Mr Didier Francois, a seasoned war reporter for Europe 1 radio, and Mr Edouard Elias, a photographer, at a checkpoint as the pair travelled to the country's second city of Aleppo.

On June 22, reporter Nicolas Henin, 37, and photographer Pierre Torres, 29, were seized while working in the northern city of Raqqa.

International press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) describes Syria as currently the world's most dangerous country for journalists to work in. Since the conflict began in March 2011, RSF has recorded the deaths of 25 journalists and 26 citizen journalists.

The fate of the hostages may depend on who is holding them.

France has considerable influence with the official leadership of the Syrian opposition, having championed their cause on the international stage.

But Paris has no influence over the Islamist groups who have become increasingly influential within the rebel coalition in recent months or with the regime.

Paris angered President Bashar al-Assad by publicly backing calls for air strikes against the regime in response to a chemical weapons attack in August that has been widely blamed on Damascus.

Although Syria's agreement to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal has put air strikes on hold, France continues to pursue a strong anti-Assad line, insisting that the Syrian strongman should be hauled before the International Criminal Court to answer for his conduct during the conflict.

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