LONDON — Hamas officials backed away on Monday from their earlier plans to free kidnapped BBC journo Alan Johnston by force following the release of a new videotape in which Johnston was seen wearing an explosives vest.
“Captors tell me that very promising negotiations were ruined when the Hamas movement and the British government decided to press for a military solution to the kidnapping,” Johnston states in the video, released by radical Islamist group the Army of Islam. “I do appeal to the Hamas movement and the British government not to resort to tactics of force in an effort to end this.”
Johnston was abducted from Gaza on March 12 by the previously unknown Army of Islam group. He was the only remaining Western reporter permanently based in the increasingly lawless territory and was due to have finished his three-year posting at the end of April.
Despite the ominous sight of Johnston with explosives strapped to him, Hamas officials remained optimistic about the reporter’s eventual safe release. “We’re working to find a solution to this crisis. I’m still hopeful,” Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad told Daily Variety. “We are looking for a peaceful negotiation. This is the only way. We are against this criminal act of kidnapping because it is against the interests of the Palestinian people and against the principles of Islam.”
Both the BBC and the British Foreign Office released statements calling for Johnston’s immediate release. “We condemn the continued release of videos like this, which can only add to the distress of Alan Johnston’s family and friends,” said a foreign office rep.
Gaza has been wracked by fighting between the warring Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah in recent weeks, leaving scores of Palestinians dead, until Hamas emerged victorious over their rivals just over a week ago.
Initial statements from Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, on June 17, appeared to indicate that a deal had been reached with the extremist kidnappers, or that force would be used to free the reporter if not released soon, although these have since been tempered following the airing of the latest tape. Haniya again condemned the kidnapping Monday, telling supporters in a speech that “the issue of Alan Johnston must end.”