Egypt's foreign minister says 11 European tourists taken hostage in a remote part of Egypt have been released unharmed.
Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the group was captured by "gangsters." He did not say how he knew of their release, or whether a ransom was paid. Aboul Gheit spoke briefly to US reporters while in New York for the annual gathering of the United Nations General Assembly.
However an Egyptian cabinet spokesman said later on Monday that negotiations to free 19 hostages seized in Egypt were continuing and it was premature to say they had been released.
"It is premature to say they are released. The negotiations are still continuing," Cabinet spokesman Magdy Radi said.
The armed men who earlier abducted a group of foreign tourists in the Aswan region in southern Egypt demanded a $15 million ransom, Egyptian and Italian media reported on Monday.
Earlier in the day, the Egyptian Tourism Ministry reported that the group was comprised of five German nationals, five Italians, one Romanian and four Egyptians. According to the Foreign Ministry, the incident took place two days ago during a jeep tour.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem refuted earlier reports that the group included two Israeli citizens.
The sources said it was possible the group had been taken to Sudan. The Egyptian and Italian foreign ministries confirmed that five Italian tourists were abducted. The ministry in Rome said it was in contact with other countries involved, but gave no further details.
Egyptian Tourism Minister Zoheir Garana said the abductors were veiled and made an official ransom demand.
The manager of an Egyptian travel agency told Ynet, "All we know for sure is that there were five Italians. I heard there may have been two Jews, but this isn't clear. Egyptian television has yet to report about it."
A security official in Aswan, 425 miles (685 kilometers) south of the capital Cairo, said authorities there were trying to determine the circumstances of the abduction.
An Egyptian government official said the kidnapping took place at a remote location near the Sudanese-Egyptian border south of Aswan. He too said that details remained sketchy.
"We don't know yet who did this and we don't know the whereabouts of the tourists," he said.
The two Egyptian officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.
The Counter Terrorism Bureau recently issued its bi-annual travel advisory regarding imminent threats on Israelis the world over.
Security officials emphasized that these warnings are not new but have decided to reiterate the specific dangers apparent in the Sinai Peninsula and pertaining to kidnappings in general.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak recnetly called on hikers to visit the Negev following recent warnings that Hizbullah plans to kidnap Israelis in the Sinai Peninsula. "I recommend the Ramon Crater," Barak said during a visit to the Zeelim base in southern Israel.
"The State of Israel is located in a not so simple area. We are surrounded with attempts to hurt us. Being Israelis is a great responsibility, but also a great source of pride.
"We must be alert, and it's difficult when a warning is issued to return from a trip and not to travel there. This means that there is a concrete threat and that one must simply return from Sinai," the defense minister added.
Roee Nahmias, Nir Magal, Roni Sofer, Hanan Greenberg, Ahuva Mamos, Jonathan Weber, The Associated Press and Reuters contribute to this report