Author`s name Pravda.Ru

American, British journalists released after Gaza kidnap ordeal

Palestinian gunmen kidnapped an American reporter and a British photographer in Gaza on Wednesday in the latest sign of growing lawlessness in the coastal strip following Israel's pullout last month.

The two men working for Knight Ridder newspapers were seized by assailants who stopped their car near the town of Khan Younis and took them away at gunpoint, their Palestinian translator, Ziad Abu Mustafa, said.

After the Palestinian Authority made contact with the kidnappers, the journalists were handed over to security forces that had mounted a search, Interior Ministry spokesman Tawfiq Abu Khoussa said. The two were held for about 10-1/2 hours.

"Both have been freed," Khoussa said. "They are safe and in good health."

The gunmen belonged to a little-known group calling itself the Black Panther, an armed, breakaway faction of President Mahmoud Abbas's mainstream Fatah movement. The motive behind the kidnapping was not immediately known.

Mustafa said the journalists were Dion Nissenbaum an American who recently became Knight Ridder's Jerusalem correspondent and a British photographer the translator knew only by the name Adam.

They were on assignment near Khan Younis when six masked assailants seized them at gunpoint and drove them away, Mustafa told Reuters. He was ordered to stay behind, reports Reuters.

The kidnappers demanded that they be given jobs as officers in the Palestinian security forces, Husni said. Palestinian officials refused to negotiate and the journalists were eventually freed after one of the kidnappers turned himself in for questioning, he said.

Militant groups have kidnapped foreigners in increasingly chaotic Gaza recently, usually as bargaining chips to get relatives released from Palestinian prisons or to secure jobs from the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian security officials said the journalists were traveling down Gaza's coastal road with a Palestinian translator when two cars filled with gunmen drove up and stopped them. The armed men let the translator go, but abducted the reporters and drove south in the direction of the Gaza town of Rafah, police said, informs New York Newsday.

Photo: Xinhua/AFP P.T.