Police raid frees British woman kidnapped in Gaza
A BRITISH woman working for the United Nations was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip yesterday before being freed in a dramatic raid by Palestinian police.
Christine Blunt, 34, an aid worker with the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), was snatched along with a Swiss colleague and a Palestinian from the Khan Younis refugee camp.
The incident was the latest in a series of kidnappings involving foreigners and another sign of growing lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, where Israel plans to begin a pullout of Jewish settlers next week.
"The two kidnapped people were freed after security forces stormed the [hideout]. Security forces are still chasing the kidnappers," a security official said.
A UN spokesman identified the Swiss man as Steven Karl and confirmed that both he and Ms Blunt worked for UNRWA. UNRWA later said that a third worker, a Palestinian, had also been freed.
Local residents and a police officer who witnessed the abduction said armed Palestinians had cut off a UN vehicle flying the organisation's blue flag. Gun battles ensued between police and the gunmen, from the dominant Fatah movement, and two civilians were wounded in the fighting, medical officials said.
"In the name of the Palestinian people, the director of the Preventive Security Service in Khan Younis apologised to the two international friends," a spokesman for the security agency said. "He condemned what happened and vowed to prevent any harm to international personnel belonging to UNRWA or any other humanitarian agency," the spokesman said.
Palestinian security officials said yesterday's kidnapping was carried out by a group of gunmen loyal to Farouk Kaddoumi, a rival of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and the most senior member of his ruling Fatah party. Mr Kaddoumi lives in Tunisia.
On Sunday, Mr Kaddoumi's spokesman in Gaza, Suleiman al-Farra, released a statement saying his leader ordered the creation of an army of some 1,500 soldiers to help the Palestinian Authority maintain law and order during Israel's withdrawal from Gaza next week.
Mr al-Farra was later arrested by Palestinian security officers. No official reason was given for his arrest, and Mr Kaddoumi threatened - in a handwritten statement - harsh punishment if Mr al-Farra was not immediately released.
As the planned withdrawal from Gaza loomed closer, Israel yesterday said it will insist on checking all traffic in and out of the region even after its withdrawal from the coastal strip.
Shaul Mofaz, the Israeli defence minister told the security cabinet he had ruled out the possibility that foreign inspectors could replace Israeli guards and give the Palestinians their own gate to the world.
Israel will insist on moving the Gaza-Egypt border crossing after the withdrawal so that Israeli inspectors can continue to check goods and people, Mr Mofaz told the security cabinet, which was considering new Gaza border arrangements after the pullout.
The Palestinians have said they would not agree to move the crossing to a three-way meeting point between Israel, Egypt and Gaza, and it was not clear how the dispute would be resolved, with just a week to go to the start of the Gaza pullout. International mediators have proposed leaving the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt in place, and allowing foreign inspectors to take the place of Israeli security officials.
"Israel claims it wants to get out of Gaza but in reality it wants to continue to control Gaza," said Diana Buttu, a Palestinian spokeswoman. "What Israel really seeks to do is to control Gaza both militarily and economically by moving the Rafah crossing."
Mr Mofaz told the security cabinet that Israel's top priorities are preventing weapons being smuggled into Gaza and preserving the existing customs union.
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