Palestinian Journalists Strike Over Kidnapped BBC Correspondent

Palestinian journalists on Monday began a three-day strike to protest the kidnapping of British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent Alan Johnston, the longest-held reporter ever abducted in the Gaza Strip.

It was the third such stoppage by Palestinian media since Johnston's kidnapping, and reflected growing anxiety about his fate and the increasing lawlessness in the violent coastal strip where 1.4 million people live.

Johnston, 44, was kidnapped by masked gunmen as he returned to his apartment in Gaza City on March 12. Since then, there has been no word on his whereabouts, condition or the demands of his abductors.

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In Gaza City about 700 Palestinian journalists, intellectuals and aid workers — many with their mouths symbolically sealed with tape — protested outside Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office against what they said was their government's failure to secure Johnston's release.

"We feel that the government and the presidency isn't taking this issue seriously," said Shuhdi Kashef, a leader in the 400-member journalists union.

International aid groups have also called for Johnston's release.

Haniyeh came out to face the protesters and said he was doing his best to end the abduction.

"The journalists and government are (fighting) in the same trench," he said. "We are not taking this issue lightly."

In the West Bank town of Ramallah, around 70 Palestinian and foreign journalists staged a demonstration in the city center, holding placards reading, "Free Alan."

Many officials suspect that members of a powerful Gaza clan took Johnston. But security officials — both those loyal to the Islamist group Hamas and its rival Fatah — are reluctant to pursue it, fearful of antagonizing the heavily armed family.

Johnston was the only Western reporter permanently based in Gaza, where he has lived for three years. He was preparing to leave at the beginning of April.

A total of 11 journalists have been kidnapped in Gaza over the past three years. All have been released unharmed, usually within days of being captured.

Kidnapping is a common tactic in Gaza. Kidnappers typically demand money or jobs from the Palestinian Authority. They are rarely punished, which critics say has encouraged the kidnapping of foreigners as a lucrative enterprise with few drawbacks.