German kidnapped in Nablus released

Diplomats leave W. Bank and Gaza due to threats relating to Muhammed cartoon.

pals burn danish flag 29 (photo credit: AP)
pals burn danish flag 29
(photo credit: AP)
A German citizen was reported freed by Palestinian police shortly after armed men kidnapped him from a hotel in the West Bank city of Nablus, according to security officials. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details, said police found the four kidnappers and the German, arrested two of the gunmen and freed the hostage. The whole incident lasted less than an hour. Foreign diplomats and journalists began pulling out of the Palestinian areas and two countries closed diplomatic offices earlier that day, after masked Palestinian gunmen, incensed by caricatures of the Islamic prophet Mohammed in some European newspapers threatened to kidnap foreigners. Palestinian security forces beefed up their presence around foreign institutions in the city and other parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as protests over a caricatures turned into threats of retaliation. Some Palestinians here expressed deep concern over the threats against European countries that have long been providing financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. "I think these threats are exaggerated," said a Palestinian official. "We are losing our best friends." In the past 24 hours, several armed groups issued statements that included threats to harm nationals of Denmark, Norway and France who live or work in the Palestinian areas. The groups accused the three countries of allowing newspapers to "ridicule" the prophet. In the West Bank city of Nablus, gunmen said they were searching apartments for foreigners from several European countries to try to abduct them. According to a Channel 2 report, West Bank gunmen gave an 8:00 p.m. (Israel time) deadline for European governments to apologize for the publications. Otherwise, they warned, European doctors and other European nationals would be targeted. On Wednesday the European Union closed down its offices in Gaza City and ordered its staff to leave the city out of fear for their lives. The following day Fatah and Islamic Jihad militiamen arrived at the offices and announced that they would remain closed until the governments of Denmark, France and Norway apologize for insulting the feelings of all Muslims. "Closed until the Muslims receive an apology," said a graffiti painted by the armed masked men on the main gate. Abu Jihad, a spokesman for the Fatah-affiliated Yasser Arafat Brigades, told reporters: "We want the Danish, Norwegian and French governments to apologize within 48 hours. If they don't apologize, they won't be able to reopen their offices here." Abu Jihad claimed that some Danish groups were planning to burn the Koran in Copenhagen on Saturday. "If they do this, we will shell the headquarters of the European Union and all churches in the Gaza Strip," he warned. In this city, scores of PA policemen were deployed outside the EU headquarters at the Gimzo Suites compound. Security was also beefed up around the Danish Representative Office to the PA. The head of the office, Rolf Holmbroe, told The Jerusalem Post that the whole affair came to him as "a lightening from a clear sky." He added: "We have been in contact with the Palestinian police and other Palestinians to ask them about the real content of the threats. Based on that we have until now decided to remain open. But we will take tomorrow off because it's a half-day anyway on Friday." Holmbroe and other foreign diplomats met this week with the PA mufti in Jerusalem in an attempt to ease tensions. "He agreed to help lower the level of threat," he said. "He said he would try to help prevent attacks on Danes." However, the PA Ministry of Wakf instructed all preachers to condemn the newspapers that published the cartoon during Friday prayers. Hamas and other groups announced that they would stage mass demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip after Friday prayers against Denmark, Norway and France. A similar protest will take place at the Aksa Mosque. In east Jerusalem, Muslim activists distributed thousands of posters calling on residents to boycott Danish products. They also painted the Danish flag on some streets and sidewalks so that people could walk or drive over it. Abu Haroun, a spokesman for the Fatah-affiliated Abu Rish armed group in the Gaza Strip, said his men would close down all EU institutions and offices if their governments did not apologize to the Muslims by Friday morning. "We will attack the citizens of Denmark, France and Norway," he told the Post. "We will also close down all political, press and commercial offices belonging to these countries." Abu Haroun reminded the governments of these countries that the Palestinians had launched an intifada against Israel because of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000. "We have paid a heavy price to defend Islam and we won't hesitate to do this again." Abu Hafez, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, called on foreign journalists to condemn the cartoon. "The West must understand that their insult on our prophet is an act of aggression on the entire Muslim and Arab world," he said. However, he called on armed groups to refrain from attacking foreign journalists and members of humanitarian delegations. "We urge the armed groups to halt these actions because they cause damage to our people's interests," he added. "We don't target foreigners here because they're not our enemies. They're not the ones who insulted the prophet." Steffen Jansen, the Jerusalem-based Middle East bureau chief of Denmark's TV-2, told the Post that he would continue to work in the Palestinian areas despite the threats. "I'm not scared because I haven't run into a scary situation until now," he said. "I've covered this area for so many years and my experience has taught me that if I treat people with respect and dignity, I will have no problem." AP contributed to this report.