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(photo credit: AP [file])
Palestinian Authority officials are trying to persuade the kidnappers of a long-held BBC journalist that they are mistaken in using Islamic justifications for their actions, an aide to the PA premier told The Associated Press on Monday.
Ahmed Youssef, an aide to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said there are contacts with the kidnappers of Alan Johnston, who has been held for 50 days, by far the longest time in captivity for a Western hostage.
"It's on the way to being resolved. It's being addressed religiously and ideologically," he said, but would not say whether he expected Johnston to be released in days or weeks.
Youssef said negotiators were trying to convince kidnappers that the extremist Islamic ideology they used to justify holding Westerners is incorrect. Last week Haniyeh suggested the kidnappers belonged to an Islamic extremist group.
Youssef also denied a newspaper report listing the demands of the kidnappers - a tract of land from the Palestinian government, 5 million dollars from the British government, and release of an Iraqi woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, 35, sentenced to death in Jordan for her role in the al-Qaida-led triple hotel bombing that killed 60 people there.
"The report is not precise, it is not correct," Youssef said in the telephone interview.
There has been no public word of Johnston's condition since he was snatched by gunmen from a Gaza street on March 12.
Youssef said the government's office had received "assurances" that Johnston was "in a safe place, and in good health."
"We welcome all efforts to free him. It's clearly very sad for us that he is still being held - 50 days is a very long time for anyone to remain in captivity, said Simon Wilson, editor of the BBC's Middle East bureau.
"We can't comment on everything that is coming out of Gaza. The (Palestinian) government has said they will do everything they can to get Alan freed."