Sun, Jan 01, 2006 - Page 1 News List

British hostages freed in Gaza Strip

ORDEAL Militants released a 24-year-old British rights activist and her parents as a `good will' gesture, after seizing them at gunpoint and holding them for two days

AFP , JERUSALEM

Kate Burton, a 25-year-old Briton, kidnapped with her parents in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, appears with a militant on TV on Friday.

PHOTO: AFP

A British rights activist and her parents held hostage for two days by Palestinian militants in the lawless Gaza Strip were freed unharmed and moved to a safe house in Jerusalem on Saturday.

A previously unknown group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of Kate Burton and her parents Hugh and Helen, who were seized at gunpoint on Wednesday.

The group, calling itself the Mujahadeen Bayt al-Maqdes (Jerusalem) Brigades released a video showing a masked gunman reading a statement, with Burton, 24, standing silently next to him with her hands behind her back.

"We have decided to pardon the three Britons as a gesture of goodwill in return for a seriousness in answering our demands," the unidentified man said.

Kate Burton, wearing a Palestinian black-and-white checkered scarf to hide her face, was bundled into a British diplomatic vehicle in Gaza along with her parents.

"They are resting in a safe house in east Jerusalem and are doing well," a British diplomat told reporters on Saturday.

He said the British authorities were trying to convince Kate Burton not to return to Gaza, but that the final choice would be hers.

She has been working in Gaza for about three months as an international coordinator for the al-Mazen human rights center.

The diplomat said Kate's parents had been due to return to Britain last Wednesday but had not decided what they would do.

The Foreign Office in London said the Burtons were "well and in good spirits."

"We condemn all kidnappings which can never be a legitimate means of achieving any ob-jective," the office said. "Since we first heard of the Burtons' abduction, the British government has worked closely with the Palestinian Authority and others. We would like to express our thanks and appreciation to all those who helped secure the release of the Burtons."

The Burtons' extended family in Britain also released a statement saying: "We are overjoyed to hear that Kate and her parents have been released safely."

Their capture in Rafah near the Gaza border with Egypt had been greeted with anger and dismay by many ordinary Palestinians and political leaders who are attempting to attract aid workers to the Gaza Strip.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat branded the abductions as "shameful" and damaging to Palestinian interests.

"I'm happy that this despicable, shameful act is over. These people are friends and I hope that this will be the last [such event]," he said.

Meanwhile, about 50 masked gunmen occupied a Palestinian government office in the Gaza Strip for several hours yesterday to demand jobs, witnesses and a spokesman for the gunmen said.

The group, members of a political wing of the mainstream Fatah movement, occupied an Interior Ministry office in Deir el-Balah refugee camp, forced everyone to leave and stood guard outside.

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