A kidnapped Egyptian diplomat was released by his captors early yesterday, two days after he was abducted at gunpoint in Gaza City, officials said.
Palestinian security officials said police picked up Hussam alMousaly at a mosque in Gaza's Zeitoun neighborhood overnight and took him home. Egyptian diplomatic officials confirmed al-Mousaly was unharmed and back at his home in Gaza City.
A previously unknown Palestinian group calling itself the "Al Ahrar Brigades" on Friday had claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
The group, whose name means "the liberated people" in Arabic, demanded the release of dozens of Palestinian criminals held in Egyptian jails. In a statement, it warned of unspecified "unfortunate consequences" if the prisoners were not released within 48 hours.
The same group had issued a statement to the al-Jazeera satellite network early yesterday in which it said it had freed al-Mousaly as a "goodwill gesture."
It said it had kidnapped the diplomat to draw attention to the plight of Palestinian prisoners held by Egypt and reiterated its call for their release. It also said it was not connected to the Palestinian Authority or any of the major Palestinian militant groups.
Egyptian security officials in Sinai, which borders Gaza, confirmed more than 80 Palestinians are in jail for weapons smuggling or illegally entering the country.
The Egyptian diplomats would not say whether they had given in to the kidnappers' demands. They said the Egyptian Foreign Ministry would release a formal statement later yesterday.
Al-Mousaly, Egypt's military attache to the Palestinian Authority, was kidnapped from his car near the Egyptian mission in Gaza City on Thursday after two masked gunmen shot out the tires of the vehicle.
The abduction, carried out in broad daylight, underscored the lawlessness plaguing Gaza in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from the area last September.
Egypt, a key ally of the Palestinians, has been trying to broker the formation of a new Palestinian government following Hamas' victory in legislative elections last month.
The Egyptian was the first diplomat to be nabbed amid a recent spate of kidnappings, and the abduction was the most serious attack on diplomats in the Palestinian areas since three US security guards were killed when a US diplomatic convoy was hit by a bomb in October 2003.
Little was known about the kidnappers. Major militant groups, including Hamas, condemned the abduction and denied involvement.
Many of the recent Gaza kidnappings have been carried out by small groups seeking the release of relatives from jail, jobs or other personal favors.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has come under criticism for giving in to some of the demands, with critics saying the tactic has encouraged more unrest.