GAZA, (Reuters) – Two Fox News journalists kidnapped by militants in Gaza have not been harmed, a Palestinian official said on Saturday, as a deadline expired for the United States to free Muslim prisoners in exchange for their release.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said information from “third parties” confirmed that Fox News correspondent Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American, and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were in good health.
The previously unknown Holy Jihad Brigades claimed responsibility on Wednesday for the kidnapping and warned the United States to free Muslim prisoners or the captives would face unspecified consequences. The three-day deadline passed at midday (0900 GMT).
“Things are still going in a positive manner and information confirms the two journalists are in good health and are unharmed,” Hilal told Reuters.
Hilal was speaking just before the deadline expired.
The United States has said it would not make “concessions to terrorists”.
Centanni and Wiig were seized on Aug. 14 as they were working on a story in Gaza City.
The kidnapping is the longest-lasting abduction of foreigners in the Palestinian coastal strip in more than a year.
The Hamas-led government has called for the men to be freed and said on Friday progress was being made. Interior Minister Saeed Seyam suggested the government had made indirect contact with the kidnappers through unidentified “Palestinian parties”.
A videotape released on Wednesday showed the two men, dressed in tracksuits, sitting on a blanket in front of a black background. They appeared fairly relaxed and in good health. Both said that they were fine and being treated well.
Several prominent militant groups in Gaza have denied involvement and said the men should be freed.
Previous kidnappings of foreigners have usually ended after a few hours, or at most a few days, of captivity.