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Relatives Express New Fears for BBC Gaza Kidnap Victim


The parents of a kidnapped British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent in the Gaza Strip have expressed new fears for his safety, following unconfirmed reports he was killed by a previously unknown Palestinian militant group. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem Bureau.

The parents of BBC Correspondent Alan Johnston called on anyone who may have knowledge of their son's whereabouts to contact authorities in Gaza. Mr. Johnston's parents, Graham and Margaret Johnston, say they and their family are desperately worried following unconfirmed reports by a previously unknown Palestinian group that their son had been killed.

The group, which calls itself the al-Tawhid al-Jihad Brigade, said Sunday Johnston had been killed because Israel had refused to release Palestinian prisoners. Saeb Erekat - a close aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas - says there is no evidence, so far, that the claims are true and that Johnston's kidnapping is also hurting the Palestinian people.

"We do not have (any)thing to confirm the rumors of him being killed - God forbid," he said. "The president has been in touch with many people in Gaza and we have reason to say we do not have any confirmation about his death. This has been something that has been disastrous and Abu Mazen (President Abbas) is doing the maximum to effort to acquire his immediate release."

A separate statement from the news organization says BBC officials are working closely with Palestinian and British authorities to seek clarification - describing the reports of Johnston's death as rumors without any independent verification.

Johnston was abducted by unknown gunmen on March 12. A correspondent with extensive work experience in conflict zones, he was due to leave his three-year posting at the end of March. Johnston was the only Western reporter permanently based in Gaza, where the security situation has deteriorated significantly, in the past year.

More than a dozen foreign journalists and aid workers have been kidnapped in Gaza, in recent months, although nearly all have been released after being held for only a short period of time.

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