Journalists, others kidnapped as prison siege sparks violence

French Iranian-born photographer, Alfred Yaghobzadeh (L), and French journalist Caroline Laurent smile after they were released by gunmen in Gaza March 15, 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

NEW YORK — The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by reports that Palestinian gunmen abducted journalists and other foreigners in Gaza City today. A wave of violence erupted in Gaza and elsewhere in the West Bank, after Israeli forces laid siege to a Jericho prison to arrest militants believed responsible for the 2001 assassination of an Israeli minister.

CPJ sources said as many as four South Korean and French journalists were abducted from Gaza’s Dira hotel. Armed kidnappers stormed the hotel this afternoon, according to news reports, which said one gunman was killed in a confrontation with Palestinian police.

At least two journalists were reportedly freed by late night. CPJ is seeking to verify the journalists’ identities.

Palestinian security services said the gunmen were members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Reuters reported. Gunmen also attempted to break into the offices of the German television network ARD in Gaza City, causing some damage, an ARD staffer told CPJ.

“We call for the immediate release of all foreigners, including journalists, who were abducted in Gaza,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “There’s no justification for attacking civilians, including journalists who were doing their jobs.”

Several other foreigners were reported kidnapped for brief periods, including two Australians, a Swiss, and an American. Two French women, members of the human rights group Medecins du Monde (Doctors of the World), were abducted near the village of Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

The attacks came after Israeli forces launched a military operation at the Jericho prison to seize Ahmad Saadat, leader of the PFLP, and five other members of the group. The six were being held in the assassination of Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that he would be willing to free Saadat, which triggered Israel’s response.

British and U.S. monitors who had supervised the detention pulled out of the prison just before the Israeli raid. Israel took Saadat and the others into custody after a nine-hour siege at the prison.

Citizens of France, Britain, Germany, and South Korea, among them journalists, sought the protection of the Palestinian security services amid threats by gunmen, according to news reports.

Kidnappings, including those targeting members of the press, have been on the rise in Gaza over the last year. Cases include:

On August 15, 2005, soundman Mohammed Ouathi of France 3 television was held for eight days by unidentified gunmen.

On September 10, 2005, Italian journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi, of the newspaper Corriere della Serra, was abducted by masked gunmen in the town of Deir el-Balah in the central Gaza Strip. He was released later that day unharmed.

And, on October 12, 2005, Dion Nissenbaum, a U.S. reporter for the Knight Ridder newspaper chain, and British photographer Adam Pletts, a freelancer for the news organization, were abducted for several hours by renegade members of the Fatah party before being released unharmed.

CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.

Related Links

  • The Committee to Protect Journalists