Photo: AFP
Palestinian Prime MInister Ismail Haniyeh
Photo: AFP

British envoy meets Palestinian PM

British envoy meets Palestinian prime minister to discuss efforts to free abducted BBC journalist Alan Johnston

A British envoy met Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas on Thursday to discuss efforts to free an abducted journalist, a British diplomat said, despite an EU ban on contacts with the group.


"This is just to discuss the kidnapping. It doesn't represent a change of policy," a British diplomat said before Consul-General Richard Makepeace met with Haniyeh in Gaza do discuss the March 12 abduction of BBC's Alan Johnston.


Though the meeting between Haniyeh and British Consul General Richard Makepeace focused on the narrow issue of the kidnapping, it was the first face-to-face encounter between a diplomat from an EU country and a Hamas official of the Palestinians' recently formed national unity government.


Johnston, seized by gunmen while driving his car in Gaza, has been held captive longer than any other journalist in the coastal strip.


There has been no public word on his fate despite Palestinian government pledges to find him.


"We requested the meeting to discuss the kidnapping. This is the first time we have met with Haniyeh," the diplomat said.


"We will not spare any effort to bring back the journalist, the friend, the human being to his family," Abbas told reporters in Gaza City.


Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said Haniyeh briefed Makepeace on the efforts of the Palestinian security forces to free Johnston. "We hope we can solve it in a very short time," Hamad said.


Earlier Thursday, about 350 journalists and activists marched from their protest tent in Gaza city toward Abbas' office to protest the continued detention of Johnston. Security guards tried to stop the protesters, scuffling with some and firing in the air. The group was eventually allowed through and rallied outside Abbas' office. "Freedom for Johnston," a banner read.


Western diplomats said there has been a general understanding since Hamas came to power in March 2006 that their no-contact policies could be relaxed in extreme cases such as kidnappings.


Israel, the US and the European Union have refused to meet Hamas officials, citing the militant group's failure to renounce violence and recognize Israel. However, the EU

and the US have met with non-Hamas members of the unity government.


Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian information minister, called the Haniyeh-Makepeace meeting a "Good development."


"It doesn't matter what the topic is," he said. "I think they (the British) are developing the position of the EU in a positive way ... We are one team, and the world must deal with us as one team."


פרסום ראשון: 04.05.07, 11:42
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