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Journalist, photographer kidnapped, later released in Gaza strip

WASHINGTON—Palestinian gunmen in the Gaza Strip kidnapped a Knight Ridder correspondent and a British photographer working with him Wednesday but surrendered them to Palestinian Authority security officials after almost six hours.

Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder's Jerusalem bureau chief and a U.S. citizen, said neither he nor freelance photographer Adam Pletts was harmed.

"They treated us very well," Nissenbaum said.

The kidnapping was the latest in a string of abductions in Gaza in the past several weeks, apparently aimed at winning modest concessions from the Palestinian Authority. All have been resolved within hours.

Nissenbaum said the gunmen never told him why he and Pletts were kidnapped, but that a Palestinian Authority official told him afterward that the kidnappers had demanded jobs with the Palestinian security forces.

"He said it was an `internal problem,' that they wanted to become part of preventive security," Nissenbaum said.

Palestinian police chief Ala Hosni apologized for the kidnapping at a news conference in Gaza City. He said the kidnappers hadn't been arrested and that no promises had been made to them.

"We didn't negotiate with them," Hosni said. "Their demands were small and naive and yet they weren't met."

Hosni warned that there could be other abductions. "I hope that all the foreign journalists are careful when they move in this area because some outlaw groups are operating to achieve some of their interests," he said.

Clark Hoyt, Knight Ridder's Washington editor, said he didn't know what, if any, demands the kidnappers had made or whether Palestinian Authority negotiators had made any concessions.

Nissenbaum and Pletts were driving on a coastal road at about 2:30 p.m. (8:30 a.m. EDT) when a yellow cab with five masked gunmen and a driver stopped their car, Nissenbaum said.

The gunmen appeared uncertain what to do after they forced Nissenbaum and Pletts into the cab, leaving behind the journalists' driver, translator and a third man who was helping them research a story on land sales in Gaza.

"We drove around for about an hour and a half," Nissenbaum said. "They were calling (on mobile phones), trying to find out what to do with us."

The kidnappers eventually took the captives to a house in a rural area, apparently near the town of Khan Younis. "They brought in food, big plates of rice," Nissenbaum said. "They kept saying: `Everything's going to be fine.'"

The gunmen told Nissenbaum that they belonged to a group called the Black Tigers or Black Panthers, reportedly a small faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement.

Before the journalists' release, the gunmen took them from the house, drove them around, and then returned to the house. Later, they walked the pair from the house through nearby orchards and fields before stopping behind a mosque 45 minutes later.

After waiting behind the mosque, the militants took the pair to a nearby road and released them to waiting Palestinian Authority officials.

"We all shook hands; they took us away," Nissenbaum said.

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(Hannah reports for The Contra Costa Times.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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