Gaza kidnappers face the wrath of world's media

ABOUT eighty foreign journalists demonstrated along Israel's border with the Gaza Strip yesterday to demand the release of the Scottish BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston, who was kidnapped six weeks ago in Gaza City.

The mood was grim and frustration was palpable over the absence of information about Mr Johnston's plight

"Now it is more than six weeks since he was abducted, " said Jonathan Baker, deputy head of newsgathering for the BBC. "Forty-five days since we saw him or had any firm information as to his whereabouts or state of health. Forty-five days of rumour and speculation, but next to nothing in the way of hard information."

On the Palestinian side of the border, several dozen Palestinian journalists protested on behalf of Mr Johnston, 44, who was abducted as he drove home from work.

"We hold the Palestinian Authority presidency and government responsible for not securing the release of Alan Johnston until now," said Shams Odeh, of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, which has held frequent protests calling for Mr Johnston's release, including one that was broken up last week by security forces from Hamas, the dominant party in the Palestinian national unity cabinet.

A previously unknown Muslim group said on 15 April that it had executed Mr Johnston, but Mahmoud Abbas the, Palestinian president, said subsequently that he had information that the reporter is alive.

Azzam al-Ahmed, the Palestinian deputy premier, said on Tuesday that Mr Johnston is in good health. "We take heart from that but we don't know of the evidence on which it is based," said Mr Baker

Simon McGregor-Wood, the chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Israel, said the kidnapping and state of lawlessness in Gaza was deterring foreign journalists from reporting in the Strip.

"We need to go to Gaza. We need to be able to cover this important story, to understand what is going on and to tell its people's stories. We need the kidnappings to stop. But first we must have Alan back, safe and sound, today."

Mr Johnston had been due to finish a three-year stint in Gaza late last month. In August, two journalists from Fox News were held for two weeks in Gaza before being released, breaking a pattern in which correspondents had been released within hours or several days of being abducted.

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