Media culpa

The abductors' demand that all Muslim prisoners be released was just a front, says 'Al Hayat' paper

GAZA (29 August 2006) Ma'an - The demand that the USA release all Muslim prisoners in exchange for the two kidnapped Fox News journalists was just a front, the London-based 'Al Hayat' newspaper revealed on Monday. The kidnappers may in fact have called for Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt to be reopened and for the USA to put pressure on Israel to stop targeting the homes of Palestinian political activists.

Sources close to the mediators said that the USA agreed to these demands, following intense non-direct negotiations with the kidnappers. However, the US consulate in East Jerusalem was quick to reject such allegations, saying, "the United States government did not agree to any demands to secure the release of the journalists."

However, according to 'Al Hayat', when the abductors issued their statement giving the USA 72 hours to release all Muslim prisoners held in US jails, Palestinian mediators, who were representatives of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), launched a strong mediation initiative and discovered that these were not the real demands of the abductors. The real demands were firstly, to reopen Rafah crossing and secondly, to force Israel to stop its raids and strikes on the homes of Palestinian activists.

The sources added that the mediators took the real demands to one of the European representatives in the Palestinian territories in order that these demands would be passed to the Americans and the British. The sources also confirmed that many American delegates and security officials participated in the negotiations, including a high-ranking official from the FBI who came to the region. Turkey was also involved in the issue. The Turkish ambassador to Cairo stayed in Gaza until almost the end of the crisis and the New Zealand foreign minister also came to the region to meet with the Palestinian Minister of Interior, Said Siyam, and Palestinian Prime Minister Haniyeh. 'Al Hayat' reports that all the officials were in frequent contact with Said Siyam, who is said to have played a key role in the issue.

The paper added that during the contacts the US negotiators agreed to two of the demands of the abductors, thereby solving the crisis. As for the reports that the two foreign journalists were only released because they accepted Islam, the sources say this was only an attempt to end the crisis without embarrassing the various parties involved.

Steve Centanni, an American reporter, and Olaf Wiig, a New Zealander cameraman, were working for the US media network Fox News when they were kidnapped on 14 August by a previously unknown group of gunmen, who later called themselves the "Holy Jihad Brigades". They held the two foreign journalists for two weeks before releasing them, saying that they had accepted Islam.

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