Kidnapped journalist released in Gaza

A French television journalist abducted by Palestinian gunmen in Gaza a week ago was freed unharmed on Monday, witnesses said.

The kidnapping of Mohammad Ouathi, a soundman for France 3 television, was the longest in a series of abductions of foreign journalists and aid workers in Gaza. No group claimed responsibility. Ouathi is a Frenchman of Algerian origin.

His release was announced by the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an umbrella group of Palestinian militants that said it helped mediate an end to the abduction. The PRC did not identify Ouathi's abductors.

"I am well," Ouathi told Reuters at Gaza City's police headquarters where he was greeted by French consulate officials. He made no further comment to reporters.

Palestinian police Chief Ali Hosni said Ouathi was held by "an outlawed group" which he did not name, and said police were hunting for the kidnappers.

Ouathi was kidnapped by three armed men while walking back to his Gaza City hotel with his crew on Aug. 15. Afterwards, Palestinian and international journalists staged a rally calling for his release, reports Reuters.

“We are greatly relieved that our colleague has been freed unharmed after this week-long ordeal, “CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said, to CPJ Press.

“We now call on Palestinian officials to do everything in their power to find those responsible for this deplorable crime and bring them to justice. The failure to do so will only contribute to the impunity armed groups now enjoy in the Gaza Strip when they target innocent civilians, including members of the press.”

Kidnappings, including those targeting members of the media, have been rising in Gaza over the past year. In separate incidents this month gunmen seized five U.N. workers in the Gaza Strip, but released them unharmed the same day.

In September 2004, CNN producer Riad Ali was seized at gunpoint from a car in which he was riding with CNN colleagues. He was released the next day unharmed. In May 2004, armed men attempted to bundle New York Times reporter James Bennet into a car while he stood outside a hospital in Gaza during an escalation in the fighting. He resisted his attackers and avoided capture.

Photo: the AP

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