Johnston: Hamas had key role


Summary

BBC journalist Alan Johnston has crossed into Israel after being freed from nearly four months' capture in Gaza, saying "serious" pressure from Hamas had helped secure his release.

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Shortly after his release Johnston spoke at a press conference in Gaza City where he appeared with deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Hainyeh.

"If it hadn't been for that real serious Hamas pressure, that commitment to tyding up Gaza's many, many security problems, I might have been in that room for a lot lot longer," he told a news conference with Hamas leaders in Gaza.

VIDEO: Johnston speaks about his ordeal

VIDEO: Johnston freed

Photos: Johnston's release

"The last 16 weeks of course just the very worst you can imagine of my life. It was like being buried alive… Occasionally terrifying. You were in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable," Johnston said.

He said he was moved twice during his nearly four months in captivity.

Johnston said after dreaming many times of being free and always waking up back in that room it was an amazing thing to be released.

Earlier he was seen looking pale and frail in television images leaving the office of deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

"It is just the most fantastic thing to be free," he told BBC television earlier from Gaza, adding it was "at times quite terrifying".

He spoke of his "appalling" experience in captivity and expressed his gratitude to all those who worked for his release, in a telephone interview with BBC television shortly after being freed.

"I am hugely grateful to all the people, an amazing number of people, that worked on the Palestinian side, the British government, the BBC from top to bottom, and the huge amount of support from BBC listeners."

The Islamist movement Hamas said in a statement that his release follows an agreement with his kidnappers, The Army of Islam. Under the agreement Johnston's captors will not face trial for the kidnapping.

BBC's director in Gaza, Sayed Abu Samallah, confirmed that "Alan is in our hands and he is in good health."

Hamas had demanded Johnston's freedom since it violently seized control of Gaza last month, in an apparent bid to gain favour with the West.

Johnston, an award-winning journalist, was the only Western reporter still based permanently in the Gaza Strip when he was snatched at gunpoint on March 12.

Family 'overjoyed'

"We are delighted and extremely relieved that our friend and colleague, Alan Johnston, has been released. This is wonderful news for his family, friends and colleagues," a BBC spokesman said.

"We are overjoyed. The last 114 days have been a dreadful time for us, but particularly for Alan. Through it all, we never lost hope," his family said in a statement broadcast by the BBC.

The British Foreign Office said its consul had spoken with Johnston.

"Our consul-general from Jerusalem has actually now spoken to him. But, at this stage, given the unpredictable nature of Gaza, until our staff have actually seen him, we're not going to be 100 percent confirming the developments," said a spokesman.

Factional fighting

The Army of Islam, the extremist group which claimed to have kidnapped the 45-year-old reporter, had threatened to kill him if any rescue attempt is made.

Hamas had said it knew where to find him, but has not raided the hideout for fear he would come to harm.

Hamas fighters on Tuesday fought gunbattles with Army of Islam militants in the Gaza suburb where Johnston was believed held, Hamas and witnesses said.

The clashes came after members of Hamas's armed wing set up checkpoints at the entrance to the Sabra neighbourhood, searching vehicles and fanning out around a compound, witnesses said.

Hamas leader praises release

The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said the release of Alan Johnston showed his Islamist movement had brought order to the Gaza Strip.

"We have been able to close this chapter which has harmed the image of our people greatly. The efforts by Hamas have produced the freedom of Alan Johnston," Mr Meshaal told Reuters by telephone from Syria.

Referring to his western-backed secular Palestinian rivals Fatah, he said: "It showed the difference between the era in which a group used to encourage and commit security anarchy and chaos and the current situation in which Hamas is seeking to stabilise security."

Hostage video

On June 24, Johnston appeared in a video, saying he was wearing a bomb-belt that his captors would detonate if there was any attempt to rescue him.

The Army of Islam had demanded the release of prisoners held in Britain and Jordan, has accused Hamas of exerting undue pressure for Johnston's release in spiralling tensions between the two groups.


BBC journalist Alan Johnston has crossed into Israel after being freed from nearly four months' capture in Gaza, saying "serious" pressure from Hamas had helped secure his release.

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Shortly after his release Johnston spoke at a press conference in Gaza City where he appeared with deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Hainyeh.

"If it hadn't been for that real serious Hamas pressure, that commitment to tyding up Gaza's many, many security problems, I might have been in that room for a lot lot longer," he told a news conference with Hamas leaders in Gaza.

VIDEO: Johnston speaks about his ordeal

VIDEO: Johnston freed

Photos: Johnston's release

"The last 16 weeks of course just the very worst you can imagine of my life. It was like being buried alive… Occasionally terrifying. You were in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable," Johnston said.

He said he was moved twice during his nearly four months in captivity.

Johnston said after dreaming many times of being free and always waking up back in that room it was an amazing thing to be released.

Earlier he was seen looking pale and frail in television images leaving the office of deposed Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

"It is just the most fantastic thing to be free," he told BBC television earlier from Gaza, adding it was "at times quite terrifying".

He spoke of his "appalling" experience in captivity and expressed his gratitude to all those who worked for his release, in a telephone interview with BBC television shortly after being freed.

"I am hugely grateful to all the people, an amazing number of people, that worked on the Palestinian side, the British government, the BBC from top to bottom, and the huge amount of support from BBC listeners."

The Islamist movement Hamas said in a statement that his release follows an agreement with his kidnappers, The Army of Islam. Under the agreement Johnston's captors will not face trial for the kidnapping.

BBC's director in Gaza, Sayed Abu Samallah, confirmed that "Alan is in our hands and he is in good health."

Hamas had demanded Johnston's freedom since it violently seized control of Gaza last month, in an apparent bid to gain favour with the West.

Johnston, an award-winning journalist, was the only Western reporter still based permanently in the Gaza Strip when he was snatched at gunpoint on March 12.

Family 'overjoyed'

"We are delighted and extremely relieved that our friend and colleague, Alan Johnston, has been released. This is wonderful news for his family, friends and colleagues," a BBC spokesman said.

"We are overjoyed. The last 114 days have been a dreadful time for us, but particularly for Alan. Through it all, we never lost hope," his family said in a statement broadcast by the BBC.

The British Foreign Office said its consul had spoken with Johnston.

"Our consul-general from Jerusalem has actually now spoken to him. But, at this stage, given the unpredictable nature of Gaza, until our staff have actually seen him, we're not going to be 100 percent confirming the developments," said a spokesman.

Factional fighting

The Army of Islam, the extremist group which claimed to have kidnapped the 45-year-old reporter, had threatened to kill him if any rescue attempt is made.

Hamas had said it knew where to find him, but has not raided the hideout for fear he would come to harm.

Hamas fighters on Tuesday fought gunbattles with Army of Islam militants in the Gaza suburb where Johnston was believed held, Hamas and witnesses said.

The clashes came after members of Hamas's armed wing set up checkpoints at the entrance to the Sabra neighbourhood, searching vehicles and fanning out around a compound, witnesses said.

Hamas leader praises release

The leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, said the release of Alan Johnston showed his Islamist movement had brought order to the Gaza Strip.

"We have been able to close this chapter which has harmed the image of our people greatly. The efforts by Hamas have produced the freedom of Alan Johnston," Mr Meshaal told Reuters by telephone from Syria.

Referring to his western-backed secular Palestinian rivals Fatah, he said: "It showed the difference between the era in which a group used to encourage and commit security anarchy and chaos and the current situation in which Hamas is seeking to stabilise security."

Hostage video

On June 24, Johnston appeared in a video, saying he was wearing a bomb-belt that his captors would detonate if there was any attempt to rescue him.

The Army of Islam had demanded the release of prisoners held in Britain and Jordan, has accused Hamas of exerting undue pressure for Johnston's release in spiralling tensions between the two groups.