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(photo credit: AP)
Despite Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) opposition and per the request of the BBC, the coordinator of government activities allowed a Hamas member who works for the BBC to enter the Gaza Strip last week to assist in efforts to release kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston.
Defense officials told The Jerusalem Post that a week ago, a request came from the BBC asking that a Palestinian employee of the news company who is believed to be a close associate of senior Hamas officials be allowed to enter Gaza.
The employee, who lives in Gaza, had traveled to Egypt with his wife for medical reasons and the BBC told Israeli officials that they believed he could assist in negotiating Johnston's release.
Reporter's captors change demands
The Shin Bet objected to the BBC request, saying that the employee was actually a member of Hamas, and perhaps even a terrorist operative.
In the end, however, the Defense Ministry decided to allow him to to enter Israel from Jordan via the Allenby Bridge and then to enter northern Gaza through the Erez crossing.
He was not able to enter Gaza directly from Egypt since the Rafah crossing was closed.
Johnston was abducted by the Army of Islam terrorist group on March 12.
On Monday, a videotape of Johnston wearing an explosives belt was released, with the journalist warning that his captors intend to detonate the belt if Hamas or anyone else attempted to free him by force.
"We did not want to be blamed for holding up Johnston's release," one official said, explaining the decision to allow the Hamas member into Gaza.
"If we had rejected the request the British would be able to use our decision as an excuse for why Johnston is not being released."
The Palestinian entered Gaza, and after a few days informed his BBC employers that Johnston was not being held by Hamas and therefore the group had little influence over his captors, believed to be from the Army of Islam and members of the Durmush clan from the Rafah area in the southern Gaza Strip.
The decision to allow the BBC employee to enter Gaza was not the first time that Israel has bent its rules and allowed people believed to hold influence over Hamas into the Gaza Strip.
In April, Israel allowed a delegation of Arab diplomats and security officials from countries with which it does not have diplomatic relations - including Saudi Arabia - to enter Gaza on behalf of the British government.
BBC strongly denied that any of its employees were members of Hamas.
In a statement, the BBC said, "Like all large international organizations, the BBC regularly seeks the assistance of the Israeli authorities in moving its Palestinian staff in and out of Gaza. The BBC does not employ anyone who is a member of Hamas or any other Palestinian faction."
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