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04/05/2013

A father's plea for his missing son in Syria

JamesFoley_0712_011
James Foley on assignment in Aleppo in July 2012.  (Photo credit: Nicole Tung)

The agony of his dilemma as a father is plain when you read these words: "Are we going to make him too valuable? If we don't say anything is he not valuable enough?" 

They were spoken by John Foley the father of James Foley, an American journalist who was kidnapped by unidentified gunmen in Syria on Nov. 22, 2012. The family has no idea who is holding him or why.

His parents told Associated Press that they have been quiet about Foley's disappearance for a month on the advice of federal officials but now, they believe publicity might secure his release. Then, again, it might not.

Foley and another journalist who has not been identified, went missing in Taftanaz, in northern Idlib province. He was making videos for Agence France-Presse.

This is the second time Foley, 39, has gone missing while doing his job. In 2011, he was captured by the Libyan government authorities when he was covering the uprising.  His colleague South African photojournalist Anton Hammerl  was shot dead.  

But Foley's parents said his second disappearance was even more worrying. At least in Libya they knew who they were dealing with and the American government helped, she said. Not in Syria.  

Diane Foley told AP: "We don't know who to direct our plea to."

The U.S. has no ties with Syria and every militia is his own law. 

This goes to the heart of the conflict. While the scale of the human suffering is immense -- millions of refugees -- we don't know exactly how the war is being fought.

The UN estimates 70,000 have been killed since the war began.  This is probably a conservative figure considering the scale of the fighting. There are suspicions that rape may be happening on an epic scale but again, no one knows for certain. 

Syria is the perhaps the most important foreign story in the world right now because of the suffering of its civilians and the worrying geopolitical implications for the Middle East.  But the vast majority of the country is off-limits to journalists. The Syrian authorities give little access to reporters and in other areas rebels fight each other, which makes navigating the territory dangerous.  As a result, there is not enough of an informed debate about how to bring the conflict to an end.

Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists to work in, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. People like James Foley and Syrians themselves, who are bravely documenting what is happening to their country are risking their lives to keep that debate going.   

Hamida Ghafour is a foreign affairs reporter at the Star. She has lived and worked in the Middle East and Asia for more than 10 years and is author of a book on Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter @HamidaGhafour


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