US teacher freed unharmed in Nablus

Captors had initially demanded that Israel release Palestinian prisoners.

By , AP
October 11, 2006 14:50
2 minute read.
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An American teacher was freed late Wednesday after being held for a day by Palestinians. He appeared to be unharmed. Michael Leighton Phillips, 24, was brought to security headquarters in Nablus, where he was joined by a former mayor, Ghassan Shakaa, and a security chief, both members of the moderate Fatah movement.

  • Reckless in Nablus? (archive) Phillips was seated at a table as news cameramen photographed him. He appeared comfortable as he thanked the people who helped win his freedom. It was unclear who had kidnapped him or how he was freed. A group of gunmen demanded on Wednesday that Israel release women, children, sick and elderly Palestinians from its prisons and stop airstrikes against Gaza houses in exchange for Phillips's release. The group did not give a deadline. Earlier, Palestinian security officials were investigating the claim that Phillips had indeed been kidnapped in the West Bank city of Nablus. The group, calling itself Ansar al-Sunna, claimed responsibility for Phillips's disappearance in a statement it sent to local journalists. The group also said that it faxed a photocopy of the student's passport to news agencies and Palestinian security offices. The IDF stressed that entering Nablus, as well as other Palestinian cities in the West Bank, was dangerous for foreigners as well as for Israelis, who were forbidden by law from entering Palestinian territory. "People risk their lives when entering these places," one officer said. "Nablus is a dangerous city, it is the terror capital of the West Bank and foreigners should think carefully before traveling there." International Director of Project Hope Jeremy Wideman told The Jerusalem Post that it was not certain that Phillips had been kidnapped. Phillips, he said, was in his early twenties, was from New Orleans, of Italian descent and had been in Nablus for close to half a year teaching English to Palestinian schoolchildren. "We don't even know if he has been taken," he said. "He has not been around for one day and it could be that he just went away for the day." As to the IDF warnings not to enter Nablus, Wideman said it was actually the military that made the West Bank city dangerous. "Generally the city is welcoming and safe," he said. "It is certainly safer than Latin American cities. We will need to wait to see what happens." In June, after several hours in captivity, American-Jewish student Benjamin Bright-Fishbein was released unharmed after he was kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen while visiting Nablus. A US exchange student at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Bright-Fishbein - who had spent the past month working as an intern at The Jerusalem Post - went to Nablus because he said he had heard it was an "interesting city."

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