Worries mount over missing France 3 soundman

22nd August 2005, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Aug 21 (AFP) - The head of the French television channel France 3 said Sunday he was increasingly concerned about the fate of one of the network's journalists, who was kidnapped in Gaza August 14 and has not been heard from since.

PARIS, Aug 21 (AFP) - The head of the French television channel France 3 said Sunday he was increasingly concerned about the fate of one of the network's journalists, who was kidnapped in Gaza August 14 and has not been heard from since.

"We have not received any specific information that would lead us to hope for an early release," Rémy Pflimlin said during a news program on the channel. "Our concern in increasing since for the past eight days, we have had no information. We do not know who kidnapped him, nor why."

Mohammed Ouathi, 46, a soundman, was kidnapped by three armed and masked men close to his hotel in Gaza. The other three members of his TV crew managed to escape. There has been no contact with him since the kidnapping.

Ouathi was in Gaza with a large contingent of international media to cover tensions related to Israel's withdrawal from that Palestinian territory after 38 years of occupation.

"We do not yet know who was responsible or why this kidnapping took place, but we do know that it was not a terrorist or political affair," Pflimin said.

Earlier on Saturday, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Aburish group and Popular Resistance Committees held a joint press conference in Gaza City amid mounting concern over Ouathi's fate.

The three armed Palestinian factions called for Ouathi's immediate release, saying his kidnapping had damaged the national cause.

"What worries us most today is that so much time has passed," Pflimlin said. "While the kidnappings that have taken place in the Gaza strip in recent months have been fixed in 48 hours or at most three days, here we have gone eight days without information. Today, it is this lack of information that worries us and worries the family."

The Palestinian representative in France, Leila Shahid, telephoned the family of kidnapped French TV soundman Mohamed Ouathi on Saturday urging them to remain hopeful.

"In Palestine, we have not yet descended to the level of kidnapping and assassination," Shahid told Ouathi's family during a 10-minute telephone call she placed from Beirut, according to an AFP journalist on the scene.

Shahid spoke with Ouathi's sisters in the presence of his extended family, who had gathered in Nanterre near Paris, where the soundman for the France 3 television channel lives.

"This call gives me new hope," Ouathi's sister, Rekia, said. "But so long as he is not free, I will remain worried."

The mayor of Nanterre, Patrick Jarry, and France 3's Pflimlin also were at the gathering.

Pflimlin said on Sunday that he had received reassurances from Palestinian authorities and that the case was occupying the French government at the highest level.

At the same time, Pflimlin said, France 3 had sent its own team to Gaza to make contacts and persuade local authorities to do everything in their power to free Ouathi.

Telling the family that efforts to free Ouathi would be "mobilized every second", Shahid recalled that she has been in contact with French and Palestinian authorities about the matter.

"You should remain confident because in Palestine, we love the French and we are even more close to a Frenchman with his origins in Algeria, which is close to the Palestinians," Shahid told Oathi's family. "Several people have been kidnapped in Palestine, but all of them have been freed safe and sound."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news, kidnapping, Gaza, France 3, Oathi, Leila Shahid, Rémy Pflimlin

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