AP Photographer Kidnapped in Gaza Strip

By  | 

Palestinian gunmen kidnapped an Associated Press photographer in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, grabbing him as he walked out of his apartment and whisking him away in their vehicle, a witness said.

Emilio Morenatti, 37, the photographer, was heading out of his apartment for an AP car, where Majed Hamdan, an AP driver and translator, was waiting. Hamdan said four gunmen grabbed his keys and phone and told him to turn away, pressing a gun to his head and threatening to harm him if he moved.

Then they grabbed Morenatti, shoved him into a white Volkswagen and drove off, Hamdan said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Ghazi Hamad, spokesman for the Hamas-led Palestinian government, condemned the kidnapping, saying it "damages the reputation of the Palestinian people."

"The government will take all steps to ensure his release," Hamad said.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said the kidnapping "contradicts our culture and our morals and our religion." He said the Islamic militant group called on the kidnappers "not to harm Emilio and release him immediately."

Saeb Erekat, a confidant of President Mahmoud Abbas of the moderate Fatah Party, also condemned Morenatti's kidnapping, saying it "harms Palestinian interests."

"President Abbas is personally following the matter. We have been in touch with the government, the Presidential Guards and other security branches in order to acquire his immediate release," Erekat said.

Later Tuesday, Abbas spoke to Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos and told him he was doing everything in his power to get Morenatti released quickly, Erekat said. Abbas is expected to return Tuesday to the West Bank from Jordan, where he is visiting his son in an Amman hospital.

Spanish diplomats confirmed that Moratinos, a former EU Mideast envoy, was personally involved in the case.

Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer, said the company was doing everything it could to find Morenatti.

"The Associated Press is working to find out just what happened to Emilio. We are in contact with Palestinian officials and leaders to learn more, and to try and obtain his release. Our main concern now, however, is for his safety," Curley said.

"Emilio has spent his career representing the values that AP stands for — truthful, accurate journalism that tells all sides of the story. It is a sad development when the men and women the world rely on to bring them objective news are subject to such dangers. No cause or motive can justify such senseless action," Curley said.

Morenatti, from Jerez, Spain, has been working for the AP in Jerusalem since April 2005. As part of his job, he would periodically go to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He had been in Gaza since Sunday.

Morenatti began working for the AP in April 2004, when he spent a year in Afghanistan covering the conflict there. He also covered the recent war in Lebanon and the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany.

In 1992, Morenatti began work as a photographer with EFE, the Spanish news agency, in Seville, Spain.

Palestinian militants in Gaza have often kidnapped foreign journalists and aid workers. All those kidnapped have been released unharmed. In August, two Fox News journalists were kidnapped in Gaza and held for two weeks.