Gulf & Middle East
Gaza guards threaten reporters protesting Johnston kidnap
Apr 17, 2007 - 4:13:48 PM

Gaza, April 17 - Hamas militiamen guarding the Palestinian parliament building in Gaza Tuesday allegedly pushed, hit and threatened at gunpoint four local Palestinian journalists who were protesting the kidnapping of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, witnesses said.

The incident occurred as dozens of local journalists gathered in front of the Palestinian Legislative Council - to demand the body exert more pressure on the Palestinian leadership to secure the release of Johnston, 44, who has been held by unknown militants since March 12.

Several reporters demanded to speak to high-ranking parliament officials, but were rebuffed by the parliament guards, who are members of the Executive Force led by Hamas, which dominates the parliament as well as a unity government with President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party.

The guards hit a photographer in the face, pushed two other journalists, one of whom fell down the steps at the parliament's entrance and pointed a loaded gun at the head of a fourth, a reporter who attended the protest said. He said the incident was documented.

The four included a photographer for the Agence France Presse news agency, a stringer for the German ARD television channel and two local reporters.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate as a result decided to boycott Tuesday's PLC session and refrain from covering it.

The reporters have set up a solidarity tent in Gaza City to protest the abduction of their colleague, who has become the longest-held foreigner in a wave of kidnappings in Gaza in the past few years.

The BBC has as yet been unable to verify a claim made Sunday by a previously-unknown group calling itself 'The Brigades of Jihad and Monotheism,' saying that its members had killed Johnston.

The BBC described the statement signed by the group as 'rumours' and some local observers said it could be an attempt to raise the stakes.

It is also as yet unclear whether the kidnappers want money, the release of Palestinian militants from Israeli prisons or have made other demands to the Palestinian Authority.

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