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Palestinians on Tuesday released three French citizens they had briefly kidnapped in the West Bank, witnesses said.
The Al-Aksa Martyrs' Brigades, which is linked to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, said it seized the men after it grew suspicious because they were carrying guns. It said the suspects claimed they were French tourists.
"We have arrested three foreigners, we found them carrying two guns. They claimed they were French, and until now, we are interrogating them to know who they are and why there were in the Old City with guns," a spokesman for the group said Tuesday afternoon.
In Paris, a French Foreign Ministry official confirmed the abduction. The official, who asked not to be named according to ministry policy, said the French consulate in Jerusalem was working to free them.
An AP reporter managed to enter a house in Nablus Old City where the three men were being held. He said they were speaking French, unmasked and appeared unharmed as they sat on a couch. Dozens of gunmen were inside the house and had surrounded the area.
The reporter was forbidden from asking the men any questions. Prominent Nablus officials also entered the house to negotiate with the gunmen to release the hostages.
On Tuesday evening the men were released, and the AP reporter saw them walking freely.
Witnesses said the French men were eating in a restaurant when they were captured. They said shots were fired in the air as the men, with their heads covered, were led away by gunmen through the winding alleyways of Nablus' Old City.
Palestinian militants have kidnapped a string of foreigners in the Gaza Strip in recent months, but abductions in the West Bank have been rare.
Last November, gunmen seized an American volunteer English teacher, releasing him unharmed the next day. In February, during the storm over the Danish newspaper caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, a German volunteer was abducted and held for several hours.
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