GAZA CITY (AFP) -Joy and relief greeted AFP photographer Jaime Razuri, following his release in Gaza a week after he was snatched by gunmen in the latest foreigner kidnapping in the volatile territory.
Razuri said he was “very happy and full of energy” following his release late Sunday, when Palestinian security forces handed over the 50-year-old Peruvian national to AFP representatives at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s compound in Gaza City.
On Monday, Razuri was resting in Jerusalem before leaving to return to his native Peru.
Razuri said his abductors had treated him well during the seven days of his captivity in a building in Gaza City.
“Every day they asked me how the food was, if I was cold,” he said. “They were worried about me and I understood that as a signal that they didn’t want to hurt me. It gave me hope,” he said.
“There were four or five people keeping guard,” he said, adding that the captors were armed with guns and automatic rifles.
“We didn’t talk much. I don’t speak Arabic and their English was quite basic, just enough to try to understand each other,” he said. “To wake up the next day and see that I was alive was something good.”
“I had no idea that they were going to free me until the moment they did,” he said. “They appeared and said ‘wash your face, we’re going to free you.'”
Minutes after his release, a relieved Razuri told AFP: “I’m fine. I’m very happy to be released.”
“It was not a five-star hotel but it was very good. I was treated very well. I’m as well as I was when I arrived in Gaza,” Razuri said.
Wearing a blue anorak, the gray-haired Razuri, his silver beard neatly trimmed, spoke by telephone with Abbas and later thanked all those who had helped secure his release.
“I’m very grateful,” he said in English inside the presidential compound.
He likewise thanked “all those who were worried in the agency’s office in Paris and in the offices in Latin America. I’m very, very grateful to them.”
The photographer was snatched by four masked gunmen from outside AFP’s offices in Gaza City on January 1 as he was returning from an assignment. No group had claimed responsibility for the abduction or issued any demands.
Palestinian security sources said that it appeared one of Gaza’s powerful clans was holding Razuri in Gaza City.
In a statement in Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy hailed Razuri’s liberation and thanked all those who helped bring it about.
In Peru, radio and television stations interrupted their Sunday programming to announce Razuri’s liberation.
“We have extraordinary news — Jaime Razuri has been freed,” said the presenter on the cable Canal N channel.
Peruvian Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Garcia Belaunde told a press conference in Lima: “It’s a great victory.”
“Jaime is safe and well and getting ready to return to Peru,” he said standing beside Razuri’s mother, Delia. He nevertheless insisted that Peru “did not negotiate with the kidnappers.”
AFP Chairman and CEO Pierre Louette issued a statement saying that “Jaime is safe and sound, and will be able to return to work quickly.” He also “warmly thanked” efforts by Abbas and the Hamas-led government of Ismail Haniya to bring about Razuri’s release.
Abbas and the Islamist Hamas had both criticized the kidnapping, saying it harmed Palestinian interests.
Journalists in Gaza, France and Peru held demonstrations, vigils and sit-ins during his captivity, demanding his release.
Razuri has covered stories for AFP in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe, including a three-month stint in Iraq in 2006.
Abductions of foreigners have been fairly common in the impoverished Gaza Strip, with 20 such cases over the past year.
In most instances, the kidnappers used the hostages as bargaining chips to gain concessions from the Palestinian Authority, and the detainees were released unharmed within days.
Meanwhile AFP was still without word of one its employees in Iraq, Salah Jali al-Gharrawi, who was snatched by masked gunmen in central Baghdad nine months ago.