Hamas says it identifies kidnappers of BBC TV reporter

The Hamas-led Palestinian government on Tuesday said it has identified the kidnappers of a BBC journalist and hopes to free him soon.

BBC television correspondent Alan Johnston was nabbed Monday from his car by four masked gunmen in Gaza City. The abduction was the latest in a string of kidnappings of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip.

Government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said the kidnapping hurt the Palestinian cause.

"The kidnappers have no nationalism, they want a cheap reward," he said. "They are well-known, and we hope he (Johnston) will be found today."

Hamad spoke at a protest in front of the BBC office, where 30 Palestinian reporters called for the journalist's quick release.The protesters held up signs, and some taped their mouths shut as they criticized the government for not immediately condemning the kidnapping.

Johnston, originally from Scotland, had been reporting from Gaza for the past three years. In a statement Tuesday, the BBC said it still had no confirmation of his whereabouts.

"We are working closely with the Palestinian authorities and others to establish the facts surrounding the situation," the statement read. "We are keeping Alan's family fully informed of developments."

Simon Wilson, the BBC Middle East bureau editor, traveled from Jerusalem to Gaza where he met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas and other government members to discuss the kidnapping.

"We hope to resolve this very quickly for the sake of BBC and the government," he told the government officials.

Following the meeting, Haniyeh expressed his "serious condemnation" of the kidnapping, saying he ordered security forces to search for the kidnappers.

In the past 18 months, more than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been abducted in Gaza, an area plagued by crime, political violence and lawlessness. Most of the kidnappings have been carried out by gunmen seeking favors from the government or trying to settle scores with rivals.

In most cases, victims have been released unharmed within hours. An exception was the abduction of two Fox News employees last summer who were held for two weeks, prompting many foreign journalists to shy from entering Gaza.

The last foreigner taken hostage was Jaime Razuri, 50, a Peruvian photographer with the French news agency, who was abducted at gunpoint on Jan. 1 and released a week later.

In October, AP photographer Emilio Morenatti was abducted in Gaza City and freed unharmed after 15 hours.

No one has yet claimed responsibility for Johnston's abduction. Speaking in Tokyo, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, a close ally of President Mahmoud Abbas, condemned what he called a "despicable act."

"The last thing the Palestinians need is to tarnish their image," he said.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents foreign journalists in Israel and the Palestinian areas, appealed for Johnston's immediate release.

"We ask all in Gaza to respect the rights and safety of the press," the FPA said in a statement, reports AP.

The Committee for the Protection of Journalists, a media-advocacy group based in New York, also condemned the abduction.

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