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Palestinian Abductors Release Video of  BBC Reporter

Kidnapped BBC Gaza Correspondent Alan Johnston appeared for the first time Friday in a videotape released by his captors. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

The video appeared on the al-Ekhlaas web site, which is often used by Islamic militants. Looking healthy and clothed in a red sweater against a black backdrop, Johnston spoke for about three minutes. Saying his kidnappers have treated him well, the veteran BBC correspondent read a statement that condemned Israeli, British and U.S. policies in the Middle East.

"Every day there are Palestinians arrested and imprisoned for no reason," he said. People are killed on a daily basis. The economic suffering is terrible, especially here in Gaza where the Israeli, the Israeli (unintelligible) here - absolute despair after nearly 40 years of Israeli occupation which has been supported by the West."

The video appeared to be heavily edited, with some of Johnston's comments sounding clipped, and repeated out of context.

A logo of the group that is reportedly holding him, Jayash al-Islam, or the Army of Islam, also appeared on the video. A speaker from the group whose voice had also been on an audio tape released in early May, repeated the group's demand for the release of radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada al-Filistini, who is in British custody suspected of having links to al-Qaida.

The speaker, who identifies himself as a member of Jayash al-Islam, says if Britain frees Abu Qatada, it will reciprocate by releasing Johnston.

British authorities say as a matter of policy they will not make any deals for the release of Johnston, or any other British citizens seized by kidnappers.

The release of the tape was condemned by Palestinian government officials who have repeatedly called for Johnston's immediate release. Palestinian security authorities say they know where Johnston is being held in Gaza but have avoided using force to free him out of fear that he will be harmed.

Johnston, the only western correspondent based in Gaza, was abducted on March 12, making him the longest-held western hostage ever seized in Gaza. In the video that was released on Friday, Johnston attempted to speak to his family but the video was cut before he could complete his message.