GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) – Palestinian militants kidnapped an Egyptian diplomat in broad daylight, a sudden spike in Gaza chaos that came just as Egypt was trying to broker formation of a new Palestinian government headed by the Islamic Hamas.
Gunmen shot out the tires of the car carrying the Egyptian military attache on Thursday and abducted him, showing that no one, not even an official from one of the Palestinians’ most important allies, is immune from the violence.
The Egyptian was the first diplomat nabbed amid a recent spate of kidnappings, and the abduction was the most serious attack on diplomats in the Palestinian areas since three American security guards were killed when a U.S. diplomatic convoy was hit by a bomb in October 2003.
The kidnapping of Hussam Almousaly, the Egyptian diplomat, occurred about 11 a.m. when two masked militants shot out the tires of his diplomatic vehicle just 200 yards (meters) from the heavily guarded Egyptian diplomatic mission in Gaza City. The gunmen sped off with Almousaly, witnesses said.
The identity of the gunmen was not known even hours after the attack, and Palestinian security officials said they had not been contacted with demands.
Gaza militants have kidnapped about 20 foreigners in recent months, using the hostages to try to get jobs from the Palestinian Authority or to secure release of jailed comrades. The Palestinian Authority routinely accedes to their demands, and all of the previous hostages have been released unharmed.
“We totally condemn such acts,” Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia said, identifying Almousaly as an Egyptian military attache.
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was working to «expedite the release of the kidnapped diplomat.”
Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Islamic Hamas, which won Palestinian parliamentary elections last month, condemned the abduction, saying it “harmed the Palestinians’ strong relations with Egypt.”
Hamas leaders are in Cairo for talks about setting up a new Palestinian government.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking Thursday during a trip to Spain, extended an invitation to Hamas’ leaders to come to Moscow for talks “to search for solutions.”
Alexander Kalugin, Russia’s special envoy for the Middle East, said Russia would ask Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said from Gaza that members would be “delighted” to visit Russia if officially invited.
Also Thursday, nearly all the Palestinian Authority’s 140,000 employees received their overdue January salaries despite a severe budget crisis, said the deputy finance minister, Jihad al-Wazir.
The Palestinian Authority borrowed some payroll money from banks after Arab countries did not transfer millions they had promised, he said.
Before the payments were made, about 25 armed Al Aqsa militants working in the security forces broke into the finance ministry building in Gaza City to demand their salaries. They left after being assured they would be paid.
About a dozen other Al Aqsa militants on the payroll took over the Interior Ministry building in the West Bank city of Hebron to demand their money.
The Palestinian Authority relies on bank loans, foreign aid and millions of dollars in monthly tax transfers from Israel to meet its $116 million (¤97 million) monthly payroll.
The perpetual crisis is likely to worsen in the wake of the Hamas’ election victory. Foreign donor countries threatened to cut off aid, and Israel said it would halt the tax transfers once Hamas forms a government.