Israeli officials say they will not negotiate for the release of two Arab aid workers from east Jerusalem, who are being held hostage in Iraq. A statement from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's office said he had personally intervened with Iraqi and international authorities to help in the release of the hostages.
Israel's foreign affairs ministry says it is the responsibility of the United States to secure the release of the two Arabs from east Jerusalem, kidnapped by a previously unknown group in Iraq.
In a statement, Israeli defense officials said they would not negotiate for their return, adding that the two men had traveled to Iraq on their own. The officials said this was in contravention of Israeli law. The government denied the men spied for Israel.
The two have been identified as Nabil Razouk, a Christian aged 30, and Ahmed Yassin Takait, 33, a Muslim.
Both are recognized as legal residents of Jerusalem but, in line with the views of many Palestinians in the city, they have never taken up Israeli citizenship.
Anton Razouk, an uncle of Nabil, says that the two had been employed in Israel for the United States Agency for International Development and left for Iraq to work for the agency there three months ago.
He says his nephew should be set free unharmed.
"It should work out for the release and safety of Nabil because he really has done his work here in the perfect manner, to help," he said. "He didn't look for any position. He didn't look for any financial purposes. All he did was to be there to help."
Nabil Razouk and his colleague are being held hostage by Ansar e-Din, which is demanding the release of all Muslim prisoners in Iraq detained by the U.S.-led coalition in return for their freedom.
But Yuval Steinitz, the chairman of the Israeli parliament's foreign affairs and defense committee, says Israel should not be held responsible for the release of Palestinians who are not its citizens.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in a statement he has contacted our brothers in Iraq and international authorities to help in the release of the two Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority has publicly appealed to the kidnappers to release the two captives.
Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Saeb Erekat said the two hostages are employed by "an international institution" and must be set free.