Kidnapped CNN producer released in Gaza
September 28, 2004
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Israeli Arab who works as a producer for CNN was released Tuesday, a day after he was kidnapped at gunpoint, relatives and Palestinian police said.
Talking to reporters after emerging from a Gaza police station, Riad Ali said his kidnappers identified themselves as members of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, linked to Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.
But Al Aqsa spokesman Abu Mohammed denied that the group was involved, noting that it had denounced the kidnapping. “If there is some element in Al Aqsa that is trying to abuse the name of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, they are the enemy of the people,” he said.
Ali refused to discuss what demands his abductors made. He thanked Arafat, Israeli Arab leaders and CNN for helping to win his release. “What I am waiting for now is to go back to my family, children and wife, who are waiting for me.”
Ali’s father, Said, told a group of reporters outside his home that Arafat won his son’s release.
“Yasser Arafat made every effort, he promised, the word of a man, he told me ‘I will not rest and not sleep until Riad Ali is freed and back home with his family,’ and when I spoke to him now he told me ‘I promised, I freed,” the father said.
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Earlier, a senior Palestinian security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said officials had reached an agreement with the kidnappers and the journalist. He did not elaborate.
In another development, Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia marked the fourth anniversary of the current round of Palestinian-Israeli violence by calling on his own government and Israel to rethink their positions.
“We need an evaluation of these four years,” Qureia said. “Where have we been right and where have we been wrong? What did we achieve and what didn’t we achieve?”
On Israel’s policy, Qureia said, “Power cannot achieve security. Real security can be achieved only through real peace.”
In the West Bank violence, meanwhile, troops shot dead a Palestinian in the Jenin refugee camp, local hospital staff said. Camp residents said the man, Baleh Bilalu, 46, had a history of mental illness and was wandering in the dark in a section of the camp under military curfew when soldiers shot him.
Later Tuesday, Palestinians said soldiers on patrol shot and killed an 18-year-old as he was sitting in front of his house. The military had no comment.
In four years of fighting with Israel, militant groups have carried out scores of suicide bombings and shooting attacks, but have refrained from kidnapping non-Palestinians as a way of extracting concessions from Israel.
It was not clear whether Ali’s kidnapping signaled a new practice by Palestinian militants – perhaps an attempt to copy Iraqi insurgents who have snatched dozens of foreigners – or whether he was taken for personal reasons.
Ali was removed from a CNN van on a busy Gaza street Monday, when Palestinians stopped the broadcast vehicle and asked for him by name. They removed him from the van and took him away to an undisclosed location.
Militants might also have opened a new front by targeting an Israeli journalist following the assassination of a Hamas leader in Syria on Sunday. Israeli security sources have acknowledged involvement in the killing, and Hamas, weakened after a string of killings of its leaders, has vowed revenge.
The abduction brought condemnations from Palestinian officials. “It is wrong and criminal. It must be ended,” Qureia said Tuesday. “What will be achieved?”
Over the past four years, foreign and Israeli Arab journalists have felt relatively safe in Gaza. In one of the few incidents of violence against foreign journalists, Palestinians attempted to kidnap a New York Times correspondent last May, but the reporter escaped.
However, Gaza has grown increasingly chaotic in recent months amid growing discontent with the weakened Palestinian Authority and ahead of a planned Israeli withdrawal from the area next year.
Palestinian gunmen in Gaza have seized several foreign aid workers and local officials in recent months, but released them after a few hours, often under pressure from their leaders. Tensions have escalated since Sunday’s car bombing in Damascus that killed a Hamas leader.
The Israeli military closed the main crossing from Israel into Gaza, used by Palestinians, diplomats and reporters, “following security assessments and security alerts.” The military would not say if the decision was tied to the kidnapping.