Kidnapped French TV soundman freed

New York, August 22, 2005—A soundman for French television was released unharmed today, eight days after unidentified gunmen seized him in the Gaza Strip.

Mohammed Ouathi of France 3 television told reporters he was well but made no further comment when he appeared at a Gaza City police station, international news agencies reported.

No group has claimed responsibility for Ouathi’s abduction, which triggered a protest last week by Palestinian and foreign journalists in Gaza.

Reuters reported that a Palestinian militant umbrella group called the Popular Resistance Committees said it had helped mediate Ouathi’s release but it did not identify the kidnappers.

Ouathi was forced into a car on August 15 by three men with rifles as he walked to his hotel in Gaza City with France 3 colleagues.

Palestinian authorities said they were searching for the perpetrators.

“We are greatly relieved that our colleague has been freed unharmed after this week-long ordeal, “ CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We now call on Palestinian officials to do everything in their power to find those responsible for this deplorable crime and bring them to justice. The failure to do so will only contribute to the impunity armed groups now enjoy in the Gaza Strip when they target innocent civilians, including members of the press.”

Kidnappings, including those targeting members of the media, have been rising in Gaza over the past year. In separate incidents this month gunmen seized five U.N. workers in the Gaza Strip, but released them unharmed the same day. In September 2004, CNN producer Riad Ali was seized at gunpoint from a car in which he was riding with CNN colleagues. He was released the next day unharmed. In May 2004, armed men attempted to bundle New York Times reporter James Bennet into a car while he stood outside a hospital in Gaza during an escalation in the fighting. He resisted his attackers and avoided capture.

Some Gaza kidnappings appear to be efforts by armed Palestinian factions to embarrass the Palestinian Authority and use hostages as bargaining chips to win the release of imprisoned comrades.