Foreigners flee Gaza after abductions

Palestinian police help tourists, journalists, aid workers reach the border.

british council gaza  (photo credit: AP)
british council gaza
(photo credit: AP)
Following a flurry of abductions Tuesday afternoon, foreigners in the Gaza Strip fled for the Israeli border with the help of the Palestinian police. "Everyone has left except for the head of the ICRC mission and us," said Grant Leaity, of the humanitarian aid organization Medicins Sans Frontier. "The UN is fully evacuated and the journalists have left too." Angry Palestinians abducted two French women doctors of Medecins du Monde, a Swiss delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and three unidentified foreigners. Two French journalists were also abducted, but it was unclear if they were from the hotel. The Swiss hostage, Julien Groflcaude, was released at around nine p.m. Tuesday evening. Over the last few years, a number of foreigners have been kidnapped as a means of protest or blackmail by Palestinians, but the internationals were always released unharmed. Eyad Naser, press spokesperson for ICRC in Gaza, told the Post that this is the second kidnapping of an ICRC delegate. "But this is the first time they took us from our office, targeting us," he said with some concern. Palestinians, angry that the British jailers of Ahmed Sa'adat, leader of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine, deserted the Jericho Prison, abducted six foreigners at gunpoint Tuesday afternoon. Hours after the British left the Palestinian prison, Israeli forces raided it and captured Sa'adat and five other Palestinians. The six are accused of involvement in the murder of Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze'evi in 2001, a revenge attack for the Israeli assassination of the PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa seven weeks earlier. Three foreigners, two men and a woman, were grabbed at gunpoint from Deira, a stylish luxury hotel on the Gaza beachfront. The Palestinian Authority (PA) asked that foreigners leave to avoid further kidnappings. Palestinian police provided armed escorts from collection points in Gaza. "The Palestinian police called us and said we need to be concerned and offered us to stay at the police station or to leave in convoy," said Leaity of MSF. A preventive security spokesman told Agence France Presse that two Australians were also taken hostage but freed by Palestinian security forces and were among some 15 foreigners who took refuge at police headquarters in Gaza. Foreigners left the Strip throughout the day with Palestinian Police guarded convoys. Leaity stayed behind. "We appreciate the offer," he said. "I don't like being involved in armed escorts. Sometimes it brings an exchange of weapon fire. That's not a risk I'm going to take." By nighttime, the Strip was almost completely empty of foreigners. An Israeli officer at the Erez crossing said "We are dealing with them all now."