Foreign aid workers, journalists leaving Gaza

Palestinian gunmen burst into a West Bank hotel and whisked away a young German teacher, and Gaza militants surrounded European headquarters there, as Muslim outrage of cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad spread from Pakistan all the way to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The West Bank kidnapping Thursday evening was short-lived. Within an hour, Palestinian police nabbed the gunmen and freed the teacher. But it was just one of a series of worrying incidents that had diplomats, aid workers and other foreigners dropping everything and leaving the Palestinian areas. Protesters in Pakistan chanted "death to France" and "death to Denmark," and Iraqi Islamic leaders urged worshippers to stage demonstrations from Baghdad to the southern city of Basra following main weekly prayer services Friday. Afghanistan's president and Indonesia's Foreign Ministry condemned the cartoons, and Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Austrian ambassador, whose country holds the EU presidency, to protest the depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in several European newspapers. Islamic law, based on clerics' interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the prophet, absolutely forbids depictions of the prophet Muhammad, even positive images, in order to prevent idolatry. In Gaza, foreign diplomats and journalists began pulling out of the Palestinian areas and two countries closed diplomatic offices Thursday after masked Palestinian gunmen, incensed by the depictions of the prophet, threatened to kidnap foreigners. Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank searched several hotels for foreigners to kidnap, and in Nablus, they succeeded briefly, holding Christopher Kasten, 21, for less than an hour before Palestinian police rescued him unharmed. In Gaza City, militants briefly surrounded the local office of the EU Commission, and some Palestinian shoppers said they would boycott European products.