French diplomat kidnapped in West Bank

24th January 2007, Comments 0 comments

NABLUS, West Bank, Jan 23, 2007 (AFP) - A French diplomat and his two bodyguards were kidnapped by armed Palestinians Tuesday in the northern West Bank town of Nablus but freed after a few hours, an AFP correspondent said.

NABLUS, West Bank, Jan 23, 2007 (AFP) - A French diplomat and his two bodyguards were kidnapped by armed Palestinians Tuesday in the northern West Bank town of Nablus but freed after a few hours, an AFP correspondent said.

The men, who were unharmed, were turned over to Francois-Xavier Leger, the French vice consul from Jerusalem.

One of the victims told AFP that they had been "well treated" during their brief captivity.

The men were freed after mediation between local members of the Fatah party and the kidnappers, members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant Fatah offshoot.

One of the kidnappers told journalists afterwards that they had acted because they thought their targets were "members of an Israeli special unit" due to the fact the guards were armed.

As part of the deal to secure the release of the Frenchmen, the kidnappers were allowed to go free.

Israel has long alleged that Nablus, an historic warren of alleyways and refugee camps located about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Jerusalem, is an epicenter of anti-Israel attacks.

The army frequently clashes with militants during arrest raids inside the city of around 100,000 people, which is ringed by military checkpoints and illegal Israeli settlements.

The three men were seized in a hotel in the centre of Nablus and taken by foot to a house in the Casbah, the old quarter of the city, witnesses said.

Their vehicle, which was parked in front of the hotel, was set on fire by the kidnappers, witnesses said.

Abductions of foreigners have increased in the Palestinian territories over the past year, especially in the Gaza Strip.

Around 20 foreigners, including several journalists, have been kidnapped in more than a year in Gaza. All were released unharmed soon after being abducted.

Amid escalating factional infighting and spiralling economic fortunes, the hostage takers have generally sought concessions from the Palestinian Authority, such as prisoner releases and jobs, rather than from foreign governments.

Most recently, an Agence France-Presse photographer, Peruvian Jaime Razuri, was kidnapped in Gaza on January 1 and released unharmed a week later.

Razuri was seized by four gunmen outside AFP's offices in Gaza City on his way back from an assignment. No group claimed responsibility for that abduction.

There were also recently two other kidnappings of foreigners in Nablus, both of which were quickly resolved.

In October, a relatively unknown Palestinian group, Ansar As-Suna, grabbed an American student. The student was freed within hours of his abduction.

In June, another American was abducted in Nablus, and also released within hours.

Tuesday's kidnapping took place amid an unprecedented level of tensions between militants of the ruling Palestinian movement Hamas and Fatah, which brought the Gaza Strip perilously close to civil war last month.

Recent efforts by leaders from both sides succeeded in calming tensions, but violence broke out anew in Gaza late Monday. The local offices of Al-Arabiya television were bombed, without causing any casualties, after the Saudi-owned TV quoted Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya out of context.

And an abandoned holiday village in Gaza was dynamited on Tuesday in a "message" to Fatah's strongman in the coastal strip, Mohammed Dahlan.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French News

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