GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Egyptian diplomat abducted at gunpoint in the Gaza Strip was released early Saturday, officials said, a day after a previously unknown Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.
Egyptian officials said Hussam Almousaly was unharmed and back at his home in Gaza City. Palestinian officials confirmed the release.
The group that claimed responsibility for the kidnapping — calling itself the Al Ahrar Brigades, whose name means "the liberated people" in Arabic — had demanded the release of Palestinian criminals held in Egyptian jails. Major militant groups in Gaza, including those who have carried out other kidnappings in recent months, have condemned Thursday's abduction.
The Egyptian officials would not say how the release took place or whether the kidnappers' conditions had been met. The officials could not be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Earlier in Cairo, Egyptian security officials had claimed there are no Palestinians in Egyptian jails.
Mushir al-Masri, a spokesman for the militant group Hamas, said late Friday that the group of kidnappers were using a false name. "This group is not known to the Palestinian people, which confirms that there are political reasons behind this kidnapping," he said.
The diplomat was kidnapped near the Egyptian mission in Gaza City on Thursday after two masked gunmen shot out the tires of his car.
Late Friday, a small group of Palestinian families gathered outside the Egyptian mission, lighting candles and waving Egyptian flags in a show of support for the diplomat.
The abduction underscored the lawlessness plaguing Gaza in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from the area last September.
Egypt, a key ally of the Palestinians, has been trying to broker the formation of a new Palestinian government following Hamas' victory in legislative elections last month.
The Egyptian was the first diplomat nabbed amid a recent spate of kidnappings, and the abduction was the most serious attack on diplomats in the Palestinian areas since three American security guards were killed when a U.S. diplomatic convoy was hit by a bomb in October 2003.
Egypt is holding "dozens" of Palestinians in its jails, the statement said, adding that most of those detained face charges of crossing the border illegally — many of them in the chaotic aftermath of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza — or of criminal activity in Egypt.
The prisoners face "humiliating conditions and tough torture" in the prisons, the group said.
Many recent Gaza kidnappings have been carried out by small groups seeking the release of relatives from jail, jobs or other personal favors.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has come under criticism for giving in to some of the demands, with critics saying the tactic has encouraged more unrest.