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(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian security forces stormed a building where an Italian hostage was being held, freeing the man after a shootout with his kidnappers, Palestinian security officials said.
The hostage was seen being taken out of the building to safety by security personnel. There were no immediate reports of casualties from the shootout.
The Italian had been traveling with a European parliament delegation, according to an Italian parliamentary official.
Shortly before the report of the hostage's release, a faction of the al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades took responsibility for the kidnapping.
The gunmen demanded that in exchange for the hostage's release, a new investigation be opened into the circumstances surrounding the death of former PA president Yassir Arafat and that "corrupt" Fatah heads be removed from power.
Armed men in two cars stopped a minibus carrying 10 foreigners as it was driving through the town, forced one passenger out and into one of their vehicles before speeding away to an unknown destination, other passengers said.
On Saturday, Palestinian Authority officials expressed deep concern over the growing state of anarchy and lawlessness in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, warning that the PA was rapidly losing control.
Some Palestinians compared the situation to what's happening in Somalia, which is divided by fiefdoms run by clan leaders and warlords.
"The situation in the Palestinian territories is very dangerous because we are no longer in control," a senior PA official here admitted.
He said the latest cycle of internal violence, including the kidnapping of foreigners, attacks on public buildings and installations, and gun battles between rival gangs and clans, raise serious doubts as to whether next month's parliamentary elections could be held on time.
Gunmen belonging to the ruling Fatah Party over the weekend issued several warnings to international monitors against arriving in the Palestinian territories to observe the elections.
On Saturday, a group of gunmen stormed a hotel in Nablus and kicked out a number of foreign monitors who had arrived in the city to prepare for the vote. More than 120 monitors from different countries are expected to oversee the vote.
The gunmen, who identified themselves as members of Fatah's armed wing, the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, said they were determined to foil the PA's plan to hold the elections next month. Another Fatah gang in the Gaza Strip said it would prevent foreigners from using the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.