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International Custody Case Ends

August 10, 2000

ROME (AP) _ Two sisters who spent months holed up in the Italian Embassy in Kuwait during an international custody dispute spent their first day back in Italy playing in their grandparents’ garden Thursday.

The family decided to give the girls, aged 13 and 8, a day to relax before taking them to see doctors on Friday. The older girl was to be treated for anorexia, which relatives say intensified during her eight months at the embassy.

``They’re feeling the toll of all those months in the embassy,″ maternal grandmother Odina Grosso said, speaking by telephone from her home near the northern Piedmont town of Ivrea.

``I didn’t have the heart to wake them up early today″ for medical examinations, Grosso said.

The girls and their Italian mother flew to northern Italy early Thursday, escorted by a diplomat from the Italian Foreign Ministry who had worked for months to end the custody battle.

The standoff started in January, after the father was granted custody of the older girl following a 1999 divorce. The father is a citizen of both Egypt and Italy; the family continued to live in Kuwait after the divorce.

In January, the older girl fled to the Italian Embassy in Kuwait City and refused to leave. In June she was joined by her mother, Stefania Atzori, 33, and younger sister.

At Italy’s urging, a Kuwaiti court agreed this week to allow the children to return to Italy for medical care.

Laura Remiddi, Atzori’s lawyer, told The Associated Press that the older sister was suffering from anorexia.

The grandmother described the girls as being ``cheerful″ on their first return to Italy since December 1997.

``The first thing they said was how lovely the house was and then they asked to see the dogs,″ Grosso said.

Their father, speaking Thursday by telephone from Cairo, told The Associated Press that he was seeking help from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to get his daughters back. The father has refused to be identified. He said he learned about their departure from Italian television.

The older girl kept up her studies while living in the embassy, her grandmother said.

``She’s very resourceful, always studious,″ Grosso said, adding the girl had passed the necessary school exams to be promoted to the next grade.

Atzori, who lived in Kuwait for 12 years, accuses her ex-husband of abusing her and their daughters. He has denied the charge.

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