Speaking before meeting Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Anita McNaught, a former BBC presenter, urged the hostage-takers to understand that her husband, Olaf Wiig, and Fox correspondent Steve Centanni, were not their enemies.
McNaught with Haniyeh during Gaza meeting (Photo: AP)
“Olaf and Steve have always worked for the interest of the Palestinian people, they came here to support you by telling your story,” She said.
“I do not question that you who are holding them have suffered greatly, as everyone in Gaza—in the Palestinian territories—is suffering, but these two men are not responsible for the injustices that you speak of, and they should not be punished for them.”
New Zealand-born Wiig, 36, and American Centanni, 60, were seized on Aug. 14 as they were working on a story in central Gaza City. Theirs is the longest-lasting abduction in Gaza in more than a year.
On Wednesday, the previously unknown Holy Jihad Brigades claimed responsibility for the kidnapping and gave the United States 72 hours to free Muslim prisoners or else the captives would face unspecified consequences.
The deadline is set to expire around midday on Saturday.
Al Qaeda link?
Wednesday’s videotape showed the men, dressed in tracksuits, sitting on a blanket in front of a black background. They appeared fairly relaxed and in good health. Both said that they were fine and being treated well.
Several Palestinian militant groups active in Gaza, including Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the group that runs the Palestinian government, have denied any involvement with the kidnapping and have said the men should be freed.
Haniyeh, a senior figure in Hamas, told reporters on Thursday that the abductions went against the values of the Palestinian people and condemned the hostage-takers.
“We express our total rejection to the style of kidnapping. It contradicts the traditions, the values and the morals of our people,” Haniyeh told reporters.
“The Palestinian people have always limited their struggle to the fight against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land” And never made demands that don’t bare any relation to the struggle against occupation, he said.
The tape released by the Holy Jihad Brigades bore hallmarks of hostage videos issued by Iraqi insurgent groups, leading to suggestions that the Jihad Brigades could be inspired by al Qaeda or other ultra-Islamist militant groups.
But security analysts warned against simplistic comparisons, saying that while some inspiration may have been drawn from al Qaeda, including the heavily religious language and references to the Koran, the group was likely independent.
“They are serious, but not al Qaeda serious,” said Henry Wilkinson, a terrorism analyst at Janusian Security in London.
“There has been talk of al Qaeda breaking into the Palestinian territories, but it’s more a rumor. It’s not to be ignored, but there doesn’t appear to be a connection.”