Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Makepeace --if only!--seeks to free hostage

A British Envoy in Jerusalem, Richard Makepeace, is one of those rare people whose surname suits his job perfectly. (It reminds me that there was an actual Doctor Bonebreak in my childhood neighbourhood, but this particular moniker, with its diplomatic impertive, is wonderfully upbeat.)
After Makepeace's recent attempts to find out from the Palestinian leaders the whereabouts of the BBC's missing correspondent, Alan Johnston, who was grabbed at gunpoint from the streets of Gaza on March 12th this year, there has been a minor breakthrough. Al Jazeera network has just received a tape from an obscure guerrilla group which calls itself Jaish al-Islam (the Army of Islam.) They were involved in the capture of an IDF soldier, Guy Shalit, last June, in cahoots with Hamas but are not normally counted among the street factions of Gaza's mean streets. Their tape, under scrutiny by authorities, is said to contain some new evidence, such as a snapshot of Johnston's ID badge. News reports are cautious, and do not point to an irrefutable proof of life. The abductors have demanded $5m ransom, prisoner exchange, and even a plot of land. (Another group even claimed that the 44 year old newscaster was already executed) The tape contained no new information on Johnston's whereabouts, his health or the group's intentions, but Al Jazeera noted that the absence of any threat could be a good sign. A second audio tape sent to al-Jazeera on Wednesday morning,cautioned against attempts to use force in order to free the British reporter.

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