London, Asharq Al-Awsat- A high-ranking Palestinian security official has asserted that British Broadcasting Corporation, “BBC”, reporter Alan Johnston who was kidnapped in Gaza is still alive contrary to the report that he was killed as stated in a statement issued by an unknown organization in the Palestinian territories called “Al-Tawhid Wa al-Jihad Brigades.”
But according to its spokesman, the Palestinian Interior Ministry does not know where Johnston is held or the party that kidnapped him on 12 March though it ruled out that any harm has befallen him.
Palestinian National Security Director Major General Rashid Abu-Shibak told “Asharq al-Awsat” that “he is alive.” In reply to a question on whether there is contact between the party that kidnapped him which he refused to identify and the security organs, Abu-Shibak, who was head of Preventive Security until few months ago, answered: “There are ways through which we are trying to contact the kidnappers.”
He refused to confirm or deny information that Johnston is held by one of Gaza’s powerful families that is supported by a party in the Palestinian Authority [PA] and that it is demanding $5 million for his release and threatening to kill him or hand him to another party if the ransom was not paid.
On his part, the Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman told Asharq al-Awsat, “So far and as an interior ministry, we have no information confirming where he is. There are rumors and suspicions pointing in several directions. But everyone is denying.” He added: “There is a strong suspicion that he is with a group headed by persons from a certain family in Gaza. But this group is not a resistance faction.” He went onto say: “No party has so far admitted kidnapping Johnston or making any demands. But there could be contact between the party behind the kidnapping and a party in the PA about which we know nothing and no one has told us. Our stand as interior ministry is that the situation is difficult and complicated. We rely on the security organs but they are in a pitiful state and the security situation is way out of control.”
Meanwhile more voices were raised inside the Palestinian territories demanding the release of the 44 year old Johnston, who is described as one of the reporters who support and back the Palestinian cause. He is the only foreign correspondent who refused to live anywhere but in Gaza and has been in the city for three years. He was supposed to end his service there at the end of March, just two weeks after his kidnapping.
From his cell inside Israel’s jails, Marwan al-Barghuthi, secretary of the Fatah movement’s Higher Committee in the West Bank, appealed to Johnston’s kidnappers to release him. He said in a statement published by the popular committee for his [Al-Barghuthi’s] release: “I appeal from my cell and on behalf of 10,000 male and female prisoners in the occupation’s jails for the immediate release of reporter Alan Johnston, the Palestinian people’s friend.” He also called for “respecting and protecting the reporters operating in Palestine and all foreign workers and employees in Palestine and for the categorical rejection of the principle of kidnap and attack on persons and possessions as this will cause huge damage to the Palestinian people’s higher interests and the national struggle.”