The Italian government confirmed the release of a group of 19 Europeans and Egyptians who were kidnapped more than a week ago during a desert safari in Egypt.  Among them were five Italians.  Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

All 19 hostages were rescued in a morning operation.  Speaking from Belgrade, Italy's Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that the 11 Europeans and eight Egyptians were in the hands of Egyptian authorities and their conditions were being checked.

Frattini said the operation was carried out with great professionalism.  He thanked Germany, as well as Egypt and Sudan, for their efforts at securing the release of the hostages.  He said the operation was carried out with the intervention of Italian intelligence and special forces experts from Germany and Italy.

German officials had been negotiating with the kidnappers, who were demanding millions of dollars in ransom.  Frattini said no ransom was paid.

The hostages, which include five Italians, five Germans a Romanian and eight Egyptians, were kidnapped September 19 in a remote corner of southwestern Egypt and were taken by their abductors to Sudan and later Libya.

On Sunday, Sudan's military said eight of the kidnappers led soldiers on a high-speed desert chase, ending in a firefight that left all but two of the gunmen dead.  Five soldiers were also injured in the chase, which started when a vehicle carrying the gunmen refused to halt.