Kidnapped Briton insists she wants to stay in Gaza
BRITISH peace activist Kate Burton has resolved to make Gaza her adopted home this year despite spending the last three days being held at gunpoint by Palestinian terrorists.
The 24-year-old and her parents Hugh, 73, and Win, 55, were released by a group calling itself the Mujahideen Brigades who issued demands for Britain and the European Union to pressure Israel and threatened more kidnappings.
They had been captured last Wednesday while visiting Rafah on a Christmas break.
Burton and her family, who divide their time between homes in Brussels and Newbury, had spent more than a year working in the area - first for the United Nations, and for the last three months at the Al-Mezan Human Rights Centre in the rundown refugee camp of Jabalia.
Burton, who speaks three languages including Arabic, remained committed yesterday to the region despite her ordeal. A Foreign Office statement revealed: "Kate Burton plans to stay in the region and continue working with the Palestinian people."
A colleague of Burton's, Ghada Snunu, confirmed her importance to their project. "Kate's role is really very important. She occupies the position of international co-ordinator, which is the most important position in the Centre. She is responsible for contacting donors, writing reports to them, fundraising, proposal-writing and editing English documents."
Another colleague, Samir Zaqut, who had spoken to her by phone during the day, said that she had no intention of being forced out by the kidnapping: "She would very much like to come back here and continue her work, and doesn't want to leave Palestine yet."
Burton's interest in foreign affairs seems to have been largely fostered by her parents.
Her father was a senior economist at the European Commission before his retirement and Kate spent her schooling in Brussels before completing a degree at the University of London.
Despite their well-travelled background, the family were worried when their daughter decided to work in Gaza, according to relatives.
Burton's mother had visited Burton's aunt, Wendy Hagenbuch, from Uphall, West Lothian, just before their Christmas trip to the region.
"I think she was a bit worried about going there. Wherever your kids are, mums are always anxious about them. But they are quite a well-travelled family," said Hagenbuch.
After news of the release broke early yesterday morning, she spoke of her relief.
She said: "We have all been around various TVs around the country and we haven't had any sleep. We're waiting to hear today from Kate's brother - he's the point of contact."
The Burtons refused to speak to the media, the Foreign Office statement shedding further light on their condition: "We are in good health and have been treated extremely well through the ordeal," the statement read. "We are glad that these last few days are over and we would like to express our gratitude to the Palestinian Authority, the British government and all groups and individuals in Gaza and worldwide who have been supporting us and working around the clock to secure our release."
The statement added: "The incident was just one in the context of a severely increasing state of insecurity in the Gaza Strip, and Kate remains committed and passionate about working alongside the Palestinians to improve their external image and alleviate the difficult conditions being suffered by the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip."
Details of the family's release were still cloudy last night, but Scotland on Sunday has learned that British diplomats did not have direct contact with the kidnappers and relied solely on Palestinian officials to negotiate the Burtons' release.
There was also speculation last night that the Palestinian Authority may have paid a ransom to secure the release.
"We believe there must have been at least an assurance of amnesty to the group but are yet to be debriefed by PA officials as to the exact nature of their negotiations," said one official.
Meanwhile, such is the continuing state of danger within the area, the Foreign Office is expected to advise British parliamentarians intending to monitor this month's Palestinian elections, along with dozens of British observers, not to head to Gaza.
Travel advice was already upgraded last week instructing British nationals to steer clear of the troubled region.
But the Burtons' kidnapping - and the threat by their captors to take other British and European nationals hostage if their demands are not met - is expected to prompt the Foreign Office to issue a specific policy directive on those wanting to travel to the region to monitor the elections.
"In view of the threat by this group, along with the breakdown in law and order, there is now a huge risk for British nationals to travel to Gaza and I would personally say they should simply just not go," one official said.
Recent kidnappings of foreign nationals have shone an unwelcome spotlight on the Palestinian Authority's failure to control the security situation in Gaza since Israel pulled its troops out and handed over control three months ago.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat apologised to Britons for the kidnapping and went on to say that "for such criminals to do such an action, they're harming our just cause".
Consular chiefs said that the family were showing little signs of trauma. "Despite everything they've gone through, they're all holding up remarkably well," a British official said after speaking to the three.
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