BBC journo 'confirmed alive'


Summary

It was the first time that a Palestinian official confirmed contact with those holding Alan Johnston, snatched at gunpoint seven weeks ago as he drove home from work in Gaza City on March 12.

"An envoy of Ismail Haniya met representatives of Johnston's kidnappers today and conveyed a firm message in the name of the government that they have to free him immediately," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mr Haniya — of the Islamist movement Hamas — heads a Palestinian unity government.

Palestinian deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed, meanwhile, said the kidnappers had conveyed "demands" for Johnston's release but he specified only that they were of a "political and ideological" nature.

"We have reached a delicate and very important stage," Ahmed said. "The kidnappers should understand that they are in a difficult situation."

Mr Ahmed also said the kidnappers had stressed that the journalist — who has now been held far longer than any other Western hostage in the Gaza Strip — was in "good" health.

On April 15, a little-known Islamist group claimed in a statement to have killed him, but Palestinian authorities have said there was no proof of the claim by the Kataeb al-Jihad al-Tawheed (The Brigades of Holy War and Unity).

Johnston, 44, was the only Western journalist left working full-time in the increasingly dangerous Gaza Strip when he was abducted.

On April 19, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said intelligence services had confirmed that Johnston was alive and knew the group that was holding him, but said Palestinian officials had not had contact with the abductors.

Johnston is the latest of around 20 foreign journalists and aid workers to be abducted in Gaza over the past year. All of them have so far been released unharmed, with most used to lever concessions from the authorities.

His ordeal has sparked international protests, with solidarity demonstrations held in Brussels, Cairo, Lebanon and throughout Britain.

More than 50,000 people around the world have signed an online BBC petition calling for his release, with hundreds also posting messages of support on the BBC News website.

Johnston has been with the BBC for 16 years and has also reported from Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.


It was the first time that a Palestinian official confirmed contact with those holding Alan Johnston, snatched at gunpoint seven weeks ago as he drove home from work in Gaza City on March 12.

"An envoy of Ismail Haniya met representatives of Johnston's kidnappers today and conveyed a firm message in the name of the government that they have to free him immediately," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mr Haniya — of the Islamist movement Hamas — heads a Palestinian unity government.

Palestinian deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed, meanwhile, said the kidnappers had conveyed "demands" for Johnston's release but he specified only that they were of a "political and ideological" nature.

"We have reached a delicate and very important stage," Ahmed said. "The kidnappers should understand that they are in a difficult situation."

Mr Ahmed also said the kidnappers had stressed that the journalist — who has now been held far longer than any other Western hostage in the Gaza Strip — was in "good" health.

On April 15, a little-known Islamist group claimed in a statement to have killed him, but Palestinian authorities have said there was no proof of the claim by the Kataeb al-Jihad al-Tawheed (The Brigades of Holy War and Unity).

Johnston, 44, was the only Western journalist left working full-time in the increasingly dangerous Gaza Strip when he was abducted.

On April 19, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said intelligence services had confirmed that Johnston was alive and knew the group that was holding him, but said Palestinian officials had not had contact with the abductors.

Johnston is the latest of around 20 foreign journalists and aid workers to be abducted in Gaza over the past year. All of them have so far been released unharmed, with most used to lever concessions from the authorities.

His ordeal has sparked international protests, with solidarity demonstrations held in Brussels, Cairo, Lebanon and throughout Britain.

More than 50,000 people around the world have signed an online BBC petition calling for his release, with hundreds also posting messages of support on the BBC News website.

Johnston has been with the BBC for 16 years and has also reported from Uzbekistan and Afghanistan.