- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 15, 2006

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian security forces hunted for two abducted Fox News journalists yesterday, and the Palestinian president and prime minister intervened in an attempt to gain their release.

President Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas-led government, scheduled meetings with the news organization’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Eli Fastman, and its chief correspondent in Israel, Jennifer Griffin.

The prime minister assured the Fox News representatives that Palestinian security forces would use all their power to “put an end to it soon,” said government spokesman Ghazi Hamad without elaborating.

Investigators said the president’s office was closely following the probe into the abduction.

American reporter Steve Centanni, 60, and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, were seized by masked gunmen Monday near the headquarters of the Palestinian security services.

No one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, and police said no demands have been made. Major militant groups denied any connection to the abduction.

U.S. officials said they were in touch with Mr. Abbas’ office, Palestinian security officials and the Israelis to determine whether they can help secure the journalists’ release.

“Certainly we are concerned about their safety. That is why we are working to ensure their freedom,” said Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem.

She said it is still not clear who is holding the journalists.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark dispatched diplomats to Gaza to assist in any contacts for their release. She said she was “very concerned” about the kidnapping.

Mr. Wiig’s wife, Anita McNaught, said Fox representatives told her negotiations for their release were already under way. But officials in Gaza said no contact had been established with the kidnappers.

Nabil Abu Rdeinah, an Abbas aide, said the president ordered all security forces to work on tracking the two journalists. “This is an unacceptable act. We condemn this operation and hope we would succeed to find a peaceful solution very soon,” he said.

An investigator in the case, speaking on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize the investigation, said suspicions were focusing on a renegade group from an established Palestinian militant organization, but he declined to give further details.

The car in which the journalists were taken has been identified, he said.

Mr. Centanni was behind the wheel of the Fox vehicle, marked with the large letters “TV,” when the gunmen pulled up and stopped them, a Fox employee said. A Palestinian with them was forced onto the floor at gunpoint, and the two journalists were taken away.

An official following the investigation said the getaway car was spotted driving south along the coastal road.

Several foreigners have been kidnapped in Gaza by small groups seeking the release of relatives from jail, jobs or other personal favors. All have been freed within a few days without being harmed.

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