The Red Cross suspended its activities in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian gunmen kidnapped two of its workers, the local office said, a major blow to aid efforts after a series of abductions of foreigners in recent months.

The two Italian aid workers were released early Wednesday, Palestinian security officials said.

Iyad Nasr, a spokesman for the Red Cross's Gaza office, said the organization had ceased all field operations and would intervene only "in matters of life and death." Workers have been ordered to stay in their offices because of fears for their safety, he said.

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Over the past two years, there has been a rash of kidnappings of foreign aid workers and journalists in Gaza, usually by groups or families pressing the government for money or job guarantees. In most cases, the hostages were quickly released. None have been seriously harmed.

The Red Cross facilitates movement of ambulances and emergency supplies in the violence-wracked territory. The open-ended suspension of its activities means further hardships.

The Red Cross said Claudio Moroni, 36, and Gianmarco Onorato, 63, were abducted in Deir el-Balah in central Gaza after their car was stopped by gunmen. Palestinian security officials said one of the Red Cross workers was traveling on a Canadian passport. It was not known which one.