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Journalists Demonstrate at Gaza Border for Release of BBC Correspondent


Foreign and Palestinian journalists demonstrated on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border Wednesday calling for the release of BBC Gaza Correspondent Alan Johnston, kidnapped more than six weeks ago. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Alan Johnston's colleagues called for his release on Wednesday, 45 days after he was abducted by gunmen in the Gaza Strip. More than 100 members of the Foreign Press Association traveled to the Erez Crossing on the Israel-Gaza border for the demonstration.

Dozens of Palestinian journalists held a similar demonstration on the other side of the crossing.

FPA chairman Simon McGregor-Wood noted that since Johnston's kidnapping most foreign journalists have avoided Gaza.

"This place is as far as many of us feel safe to go since Alan's abduction. We need to go to Gaza," he said. "We need to be able to cover this important story, to understand what's going on and to tell people's stories. We need the kidnappings to stop."

Alan Johnston was the only foreign correspondent permanently based in the Gaza Strip. He was kidnapped just days before his three-year posting was scheduled to end. Nothing has been heard from him since, and fears have been raised about his safety.

Last week, an unknown Palestinian militant group said Johnston was killed because Israel refused to release Palestinian prisoners. Just a few days ago, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he had good information that Johnston is alive and well, but he gave no indication about when he might be released.

Media reports say Johnston is being held by a large Gaza clan said to be involved in smuggling and other criminal activities.

Jonathan Miller, the BBC's deputy head of newsgathering, appealed again on Wednesday to those holding Johnston to release him, saying his colleague has paid a heavy price for trying to bring the Palestinian story to the rest of the world.

"And we make a plea directly to those who are holding Alan, to set him free," he said. "His only offense was to expose himself to personal danger of because of a strong desire to bring the story of Gaza to the outside world. He has paid a heavy and undeserved price for his commitment. He has suffered enough. Let him go."

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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