Source AP ©

Palestinian and foreign journalists call for release kidnapped BBC correspondent

Dozens Palestinian and foreign journalist held demonstrations on Wednesday on both sides of Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. They called for release of a BBC correspondent kidnapped by Palestinian gunmen six weeks ago.

Alan Johnston, 44, a BBC correspondent, was abducted by gunmen on March 12 and has not been seen or heard from since then.

"We have not forgotten his plight and we will not stop until he is freed," said Simon McGregor-Wood, chairman of the Foreign Press Association, reading a statement for the group. "There has been precious little reliable information as to his well-being or whereabouts."

The FPA, which organized Wednesday's demonstration, represents some 500 journalists covering Israel and the Palestinian territories for foreign media.

About 100 people attended the rally on the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing, holding posters of Johnston and chanting, "Free Alan."

"This is as far as many of us feel safe to go since Alan's abduction," McGregor-Wood said, referring to the fact that Gaza has become a no-go zone for many international reporters in the wake of Johnston's kidnapping.

A previously unknown group, the Brigades of Tawheed and Jihad, said on April 15 that it had killed Johnston to support demands for the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. There has been no confirmation of the claim, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he has information that Johnston is still alive.

Jonathan Baker, the BBC's deputy head of newsgathering, urged the captors to free Johnston. "His only offense was to expose himself to personal danger because of a strong desire to bring the story of Gaza to the outside world," he said. "He has suffered enough. Let him go."

Johnston's kidnapping was the latest in a string of abductions of foreign journalists in the Gaza Strip in recent months. But his captivity has stretched far longer than any of the others.

Some 50 Palestinian journalists held a similar demonstration on other side of the border. Many participants also held banners with Johnston's name on it. When the rally on the Israeli side concluded, a small group of journalists crossed the border into Gaza to greet their Palestinian counterparts.

"This is a joint effort ... to show solidarity on both sides of the border in order to call on every individual involved to free Alan," said Nidal al-Mugrabi, an activist in the Palestinian journalists' union.

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