Japan’s Abe cuts short visit to region amid Islamic State hostage crisis

ISIS demands huge ransom for lives of two Japanese citizens, Abbas says abductions "violate moral and humane values."

PA President Mahmoud Abbas with PM of Japan Shinzo Abe, Ramallah, January 20, 2015  (photo credit: REUTERS)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas with PM of Japan Shinzo Abe, Ramallah, January 20, 2015
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic State struck at Japan on Tuesday in the midst of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit here, threatening to kill two Japanese hostages unless Tokyo paid a $200 million ransom.
Abe, who on Tuesday cut short a visit to the Palestinian Authority because of the hostage situation, told a Jerusalem press conference called to sum up his two-day trip to Israel that his country would not give in to the terrorist threat.
“I strongly demand that they not be harmed and that they be immediately released,” he said of the two hostages, identified as selfstyled military consultant Haruna Yukawa and journalist Kenji Goto. “I am extremely indignant at such an act.”
Abe added that “extremism and Islam are completely different things,” saying “the international community will not give in to any form of terrorism and we have to make sure that we work together.”
The threat by Islamic State was one of the major topics of discussion during Abe’s visit to Israel, including during his meetings on Monday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abe traveled to Ramallah after Tuesday’s press conference to meet with PA President Mahmoud Abbas, but a trip to Jericho afterward was canceled so he could return to Japan and manage the crisis.
In an online video released on Tuesday, a black-clad man with his face covered and a British accent demanded that Japan pay $200m. within 72 hours to free the men. This is the amount of money Japan pledged in Egypt on Saturday to the countries at the forefront of the fight against Islamic State.
“To the prime minister of Japan: Although you are more than 8,500 km. away from the Islamic State, you willingly have volunteered to take part in this crusade,” the Islamic State terrorist said in the video.
Abe said Tokyo would go through with the promised aid to countries hit hardest by Islamic State.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that Abe was in the Middle East “to send a message that Japan will actively contribute to the stability of the Middle East region. Japanese assistance, which we have announced and amounts to approximately $200m., is for humanitarian assistance and infrastructure development, and it is non-military in nature.
“In any case, Japan will not give in to terrorism, and our position of contributing to the counterterrorism efforts by the international community remains unchanged,” it added.
In Ramallah, Abbas told a press conference with Abe that he expressed solidarity with Japan in facing the Islamic State threats.
“We strongly condemn the abduction of the two Japanese citizens,” Abbas said. “These cruel actions are in violation of all moral and humane values.”
Abbas said during the press conference that Israel had to choose between peace and settlements, and that he is committed to resuming peace talks with Israel “on the basis of the Arab peace initiatives and UN resolutions.”
Addressing Israelis, Abbas said: “Our hands remain extended for peace. They must choose between peace and settlement expansion at our expense. You can’t achieve peace through collective punishment by withholding our money, and not through racist measures on the ground and the continued incarceration of thousands of prisoners.”
He thanked Japan for its support for Palestinian refugees over the past few decades and for the 2012 Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations. Abbas said he briefed the Japanese prime minister on the latest developments surrounding the peace process and his efforts to seek a UN Security resolution that establishes a timeline for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre- 1967 lines.
Abe announced during the joint press conference that his country would provide $100m. to help reconstruct the Gaza Strip and create job opportunities for Palestinians.
Japan plans to send experts in March to help the Palestinians establish small businesses, he said.
He reiterated Japan’s support for the two-state solution and expressed hope that peace would prevail in the region so that people could enjoy prosperity and development.