British diplomat meets Haniyeh over kidnapped reporter

PA Prime Minister's aide: Case on way to being resolved; UK officials stress that meeting does not break boycott of Hamas gov't.

alan johnston 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
alan johnston 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
A senior British diplomat on Tuesday met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss the fate of a British journalist kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen. Alan Johnston, a 44-year old British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent, was abducted on March 12 and has not been seen or heard from since. There were claims by a previously unknown group that he was killed, but no proof was ever provided. "This unfortunate incident is of great concern to the British government," said Richard Makepeace, the British Consul General in Jerusalem, as he left Haniyeh's office. British diplomats said Makepeace requested the meeting. The two men also met last month. Palestinian officials have recently said that contacts with the kidnappers are underway, and that they received assurances that he was in good health. Ahmed Youssef, an aide to Haniyeh, told The Associated Press on Monday that the case is on its way to being resolved, but would not give details. There have been a string of kidnappings of foreign journalists and aid workers in Gaza in recent years, but Johnston's captivity is by far the longest. In past cases, hostages have usually been released within a day or two, after the kidnappers demanded jobs or money from the government. No kidnappers were ever arrested or tried. Hamas-backed Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh, Deputy Prime Minister Azzam al-Ahmed of Fatah, and Youssef, attended the meeting, Palestinian officials said. A British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with the consulate rules, said the meeting did not signify a break in Britain's boycott of Haniyeh's Hamas party. The meeting is to review "all aspects" of Johnston's kidnapping, the diplomat said, without elaborating. Israel, the US and the European Union have refused to meet Hamas officials, citing the group's failure to renounce violence and recognize Israel. However, the EU and the US have met with non-Hamas members of the Palestinian unity government. Hamas and Fatah formed the coalition earlier this year.