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Special report: Israel and the Middle East

Israel and the Middle East articles archive

Audio reports from Israel

 In this section
Rory McCarthy meets the shy, teased girl who became a symbol of Palestinian despair

Olmert defiant as calls grow for resignation ahead of war report

UN man escapes Gaza kidnap bid

Israel risks isolation as Hamas-Fatah coalition takes office

Olmert attempts to shrug off unpopularity

Palestinian factions agree cabinet deal

Hamas and Fatah to confirm cabinet

Hamas government acts to free kidnapped BBC man

Masked gunmen kidnap British reporter in Gaza City street attack

Naked, drunk, surrounded by sex toys - it's the Israeli ambassador

Journalists - one of a few remaining western prizes

No word on missing BBC journalist

Undiplomatic ties cost drunk ambassador his job

BBC journalist feared kidnapped in Gaza

Foreign journalists are too useful to resist

Hamas government acts to free kidnapped BBC man

Rory McCarthy in Gaza City
Wednesday March 14, 2007
The Guardian

The BBC's Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston
The BBC's Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston. Photograph: Suhaib Salem/Reuters
The Hamas-run Palestinian government said yesterday that it was working to release Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondent, saying that it knew who was responsible for his kidnapping.

"This issue is on its way to being solved, God willing. We have definite information regarding the parties behind this kidnapping," said Ghazi Hamad, a government spokesman.

Johnston, 44, was seized by armed men as he drove home in daylight from the BBC office in Gaza City on Monday afternoon. The BBC was alerted after he failed to make a pre-arranged telephone call to check in; his grey Kia car was later found abandoned in the street a few minutes' drive away.

It is understood that the BBC received a number of indirect assurances yesterday that Johnston was alive and well. It is thought he is being held in Gaza.

Mr Hamad did not identify which group was behind the kidnap, although criminal gangs have been responsible for a string of abductions of foreign journalists and aid workers in Gaza in recent months. The gangs have often demanded money, jobs or weapons and ammunition from the Palestinian authorities.

"Mostly, they ask for employment, sometimes for weapons and bullets," said Khaled Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Palestinian interior ministry. "I think this time will not be different."

He said that although the criminal families were well-known to the authorities, the factional rivalry that has plagued Palestinian politics in the past year had prevented a security crackdown.

No one had been convicted of involvement in any of the recent kidnappings, he said.

"There is a problem of following up orders. It is part of the internal problem relating to the political situation."

Talks between Hamas and its rival Fatah were still under way last night in Gaza to conclude a long-awaited coalition government due to be announced by the weekend.

Yesterday the BBC's Middle East bureau chief, Simon Wilson, travelled to Gaza City and met with the Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, as well as Egyptian security officials.

He was due to meet with senior figures from the Fatah movement in Gaza last night.

Johnston was the only foreign journalist to live full-time in Gaza, where he has worked for the past three years. He had been in Jerusalem over the weekend for a dental appointment and only returned to Gaza on Monday morning. He is widely regarded as a respected and experienced journalist.

One BBC colleague said: "He has worked in Kabul under the Taliban. He's an experienced hand, he's not gung-ho." He was due to finish his posting at the end of this month.

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