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US Urges Immediate Release of Kidnapped Journalists in Gaza

The U.S. State Department Wednesday appealed for the immediate and unconditional release of two journalists from the Fox News network kidnapped in Gaza August 14. U.S. diplomats have been working with Palestinian authorities on the case.

There have been at lease seven cases of kidnapping of foreigners in Gaza since Israel withdrew its forces from the area last year.

But the kidnapping of the two Fox News staff members is the longest-running episode of its kind, and a source of growing concern for both the State Department and the New York-based broadcast network.

There had been no word on the fate of veteran Fox correspondent Steve Centanni and his cameraman colleague Olaf Wiig until Wednesday, when a previously-unknown Palestinian group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades released a videotape showing the two men in apparently good condition.

In remarks at the State Department, Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said the United States strongly condemns the kidnapping of the journalists, who he said were in Gaza to "tell the Palestinian story to the world."

"The kidnapping highlights the challenges and danger to the freedom of the press that journalists face every day as they seek to cover events in areas of conflict around the world," he said. "As we have maintained publicly, we do not make concessions to terrorists and we continue to call for the release of these journalists immediately and without conditions."

The two journalists were seen in the tape sitting on the floor of an unadorned room with none of their captors visible.

Centanni was heard to say that they were both well and in "fairly good" condition, while his New Zealand-born colleague urged pressure on Palestinian authorities to secure their release.

In a statement that accompanied the video, the kidnappers attacked U.S. policies in Iraq and Afghanistan and issued a 72-hour deadline for the United States to release Muslim prisoners it holds. It did not say what would happen if the demand was not met.

Spokesman Gallegos said the United States, working with officials of New Zealand and Fox News, is pursuing all avenues for the release of the journalists and is in daily contact with Palestinian officials.

He expressed gratitude to Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and his security services for their attention to the case thus far, while urging them to do all they can to locate Centanni and Wiig and bring about their safe return.

The abduction has been condemned by both the Fatah political movement of Mr. Abbas and by the militant Islamic Hamas group that controls the Palestinian government.

Palestinian and Israeli analysts have suggested the kidnapping may have been staged by individuals with links to foreign terrorists, given among other things that they made no demands on Israel.

Since the abduction, U.S. and British journalists have been warned not to go to Gaza because of what are said to be credible threats of additional kidnappings.