Special report: Israel and the Middle East
Masked gunmen kidnap British reporter in Gaza City street attack
· Police set up roadblocks after abandoned car found
· BBC and Foreign Office 'concerned for safety'
Conal Urquhart in Tel Aviv
Tuesday March 13, 2007
A British journalist was yesterday snatched from his car by masked men in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian police. The gunmen are believed to have followed Alan Johnston, the BBC's Gaza correspondent, from his office to his apartment in Gaza City before kidnapping him. Police found his abandoned car and business cards at the scene.
The BBC and the Foreign Office said they had no confirmation of a kidnapping. "We are aware of reports concerning the whereabouts of ... Alan Johnston. We are currently unable to contact him and are concerned for his safety," the BBC said.
Following the disappearance of Mr Johnston, Palestinian police set up roadblocks around the Gaza Strip, and Said Sayam, the minister of the interior, vowed to find the reporter.
Mr Johnston, 44, from Scotland, has been working in Gaza for three years. Previously he was based in Kabul and Tashkent. He is the only foreign correspondent still based in Gaza. Because of his local knowledge, he is an important source of information for other journalists going to Gaza. He had returned to Gaza from Jerusalem yesterday morning.
With the disintegration of the authority of the Palestinian government the frequency of kidnappings has increased, forcing international organisations to withdraw most of their staff from Gaza.
Kidnappers have also copied some of the techniques associated with Iraq, such as forcing victims to read statements. But, so far, no one has been harmed. The kidnappings are not normally a protest against foreigners or the policies of the international community towards the Palestinians; most often they are used as bargaining chips between factions in Gaza. In recent months, Gaza has been paralysed by violence between Fatah and Hamas.
Last year two Fox TV journalists were held or two weeks. In December 2005, Kate Burton, a British aid worker, was kidnapped for three days along with her parents. She was asked to read a statement in which Britain was castigated for its past and present role in the Middle East.
The last foreigner taken hostage was Jaime Razuri, 50, a Peruvian photographer with Agence France Press, who was abducted at gunpoint on January 1 and released a week later.
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