Palestinian officials denounce group that kidnapped journalists in Gaza - - Tulsa, OK - News, Weather, Video and Sports - |

Palestinian officials denounce group that kidnapped journalists in Gaza

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Palestinian officials on Thursday denounced a militant group that has demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the United States in exchange for two kidnapped Fox journalists.

Khaled Abu Hilal, a spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry, said the kidnapping of Fox correspondent Steve Centanni, of Washington, D.C., and cameraman Olaf Wiig, of New Zealand, was harming Palestinian interests.

``We were shocked at their demands because we don't need a new door of hostility opened with the U.S.,'' he said.

The kidnappers released a video Wednesday showing Centanni and Wiig sitting cross-legged on the floor of a dark apartment. The journalists said they were being treated well, and Wiig called for those working on his behalf to exert pressure on the Palestinian authorities.

In a statement attached to the video, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades railed against the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and characterized them as a war against Islam. It made no demands of Israel.

The kidnappers of Centanni and Wiig demanded that Muslim prisoners in U.S. jails be released within three days in exchange for the hostages. The group did not say what would happen if the deadline passes.

Peter Rider, a New Zealand diplomat sent to oversee efforts to release Wiig, said New Zealand had no new information about the kidnappers and had not made contact with them.

The State Department has said it would not negotiate with the kidnappers, and New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark took the same position.

``I am pleased that they appear to be well and that they say they are being treated reasonably,'' Clark said in Wellington, New Zealand. ``Nevertheless, I remain deeply concerned for their safety. They are in a very difficult situation. Our thoughts are with them and their families.''

Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, said Thursday that seeing her husband in the video ``was a source of great relief and comfort.''

Appealing to the kidnappers, she said: ``I don't question that you, who are holding them, have suffered greatly as everyone in Gaza and the Palestinian territories is suffering, but these two men are not responsible for the injustices that you speak of.''

The video marked the first time militants in Gaza have issued demands beyond the conflict with Israel. The footage also had none of the trappings of locally produced videos, such as flags or masked gunmen, raising the possibility that foreign extremists may have taken root in Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh suggested the kidnappers had no ties to any of the Palestinian militant groups.

``The Palestinian factions are well known,'' he said after a meeting with Wiig's wife. ``They work ... according to a Palestinian agenda. Their struggle is with occupation of Palestinian lands.''

Legislator Saeb Erekat, who is close to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said the kidnappers' demands undermined efforts to win the release of more than 7,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

In the past two years, Palestinian militants have seized more than two dozen foreigners, usually to settle personal scores, but released them unharmed within hours. The holding of the Fox journalists is the longest so far.

The images of Centanni, 60, and Wiig, 36, were the first sign of the journalists since they were abducted Aug. 14 from their TV van in Gaza City.

Palestinian security officials said they were analyzing the video and even turned to Islamic experts for help in deciphering the poetic verses from the Quran, the Muslim holy book, in the statement.

In the United States, media advocacy groups pressed for the quick release of the men. Reporters Without Borders called the kidnappers' demands ``unrealistic'' and described the men's broadcast statement and captivity as ``Iraq-style.'' The Committee to Protect Journalists said it is ``deeply concerned that these professional journalists who were simply doing their jobs continue to be held against their will.''
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