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BBC Director, Family Appeal for Return of Kidnapped Correspondent in Gaza

The director of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the family of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston are appealing Thursday for the journalist's release. Johnston went missing in Gaza one month ago and is presumed to have been kidnapped. VOA's Sonja Pace has this report from London.

Alan Johnston had become a known fixture in Gaza over the past three years. Unlike other foreign journalists, he was permanently based there and reported day in and day out on events in the increasingly lawless strip of Palestinian land.

One month ago he disappeared while on his way home from work, abducted by unknown assailants who have yet to claim responsibility or make demands for his release.

Appeals for his release have gone out and Palestinian journalists held a three-day strike to press the authorities to do more.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday, BBC Director-General Mark Thompson made a fresh appeal for Johnston's safe return.

"Alan has now been held captive longer than other western hostages in Gaza and as time goes on, we, his friends and colleagues, are increasingly concerned about the physical and mental toll his incarceration must be taking on him," he said. "It's also placing untold stress on his family."

Thompson said he was told by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that there was credible information that Johnston is alive and well.

"I appeal to all those who may have influence with the kidnappers to use their best endeavors to secure Alan's release," he added.

In London, the abducted journalist's father, Graham Johnston, made a similar plea and read an open letter to his son.

"You have warned us frequently that the chances were always there you'd be kidnapped and we were prepared in a way for this to happen," he said. "Nevertheless, when it came it was still a considerable shock."

Gaza was never an easy place to report from. In years past most journalists worried more about getting caught in an Israeli strike against alleged Palestinian militants. Kidnappings did not happen. But that changed as the situation in Gaza became more desperate. Even though Israeli troops and settlers pulled out in 2005, violence and chaos increased in Gaza amid growing clashes between rival political factions.

Over the past year, some 20 other foreigners have been kidnapped in Gaza. So far all have been released unharmed.

Unlike Alan Johnston, most journalists based in the Middle East only travel in and out of Gaza periodically to report on events there and still others do not go in at all. The end effect, most journalists would agree, is that the story of the people of Gaza is no longer being told, certainly not the way it should be.

Special appeals for Johnston's release were broadcast Thursday by major television cable news networks, including BBC, CNN, Sky and al Jazeera.