Sat, Feb 11, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Egyptian diplomat kidnapped at gunpoint in Gaza

THE GUARDIAN , GAZA CITY

An Egyptian diplomat was kidnapped on Thursday in Gaza City after armed men shot out the tires of his car as he drove to work at the Egyptian mission. It is the first time in more than a dozen kidnappings that a diplomat has been targeted in Gaza, and coincides with the visit of the leadership of Hamas to Cairo.

Hussam al-Mawsili was driven off by his captors in Gaza City and police checkpoints throughout the Gaza Strip failed to locate him.

The kidnappers were believed to be members of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, part of the Fatah movement of the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas. The group made no comment yesterday about the kidnapping.

Egypt has played a role as mediator between Palestinians and Israel and the US. In the past year it has been training Palestinian security forces.

The kidnapping of foreigners has been used by militants as a way of gaining the attention of authorities over grievances such as unemployment and dismissals. In the run-up to the elections last month some of the kidnapping, particularly of British aid worker Kate Burton and her family, appeared designed to create conditions for the postponement of the election.

Since the Palestinian election there has been a three-week period of calm in Gaza which has been interrupted by militants firing missiles at Israel and Israel attacking militants. Having won the election, Hamas is preparing to establish a government. A spokesman for the organization said he believed the kidnapping and the Israeli and Palestinian violence are designed to destabilize the group.

Mushir al Masri, a Hamas member of the Palestinian legislative council, criticized the kidnapping and said the actions of Palestinian militants were helping Israel to destabilize Palestinian society.

"This is an attempt to damage our relations with Egypt, embarrass Hamas and poison the atmosphere here as we try to create a government," al Masri said.

"These are people well known to us and they do not accept the results of the election. We have instructed our members to do whatever they can to enable the release of the diplomat," he said.

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