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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 12:13 GMT
Italian kidnapped in Gaza Strip
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has called for order
Palestinian gunmen have kidnapped another foreigner in the Gaza Strip, two days after the release of three British hostages, witnesses have said.

The Italian was seized in the southern town of Khan Younis during a visit by a group of foreigners, including two European Union parliamentarians.

It happened within hours of Palestinian chief Mahmoud Abbas pledging to restore order in increasingly lawless Gaza.

Palestinian security sources say they are in contact with the captors.

Shots fired

The Italian, who Israel Radio says is a peace activist, was among a group of others who were about to go on a bus tour.

Eyewitnesses said they had emerged from a building and were about to get into the bus when armed and masked men appeared.

Shots were fired into the air and the Italian was seen being led away by the gunmen.

Palestinian security forces said they have made contact with the kidnappers and that negotiations were taking place to free the hostage.

In a New Year broadcast Mr Abbas called for an end to the rash of kidnappings: "These events ... harm our international credibility and strengthen Israel's pretext to undermine peace and stop withdrawals."

British human rights worker Kate Burton and her parents were freed unharmed by gunmen on Friday after two-and-a-half days.

Abductions common

The abduction of foreigners is quite common in Gaza. Hostages are usually released unharmed within hours.

Over the last 12 months 14 foreigners have been taken and each time they have been freed, quickly and without harm.

However the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza said there are suspicions among some observers in Gaza that these latest kidnappings could be the result of some groups wishing to destabilise the area, ahead of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

In a separate incident, gunmen briefly seized the United Nations club in Gaza City overnight, but no injuries were reported.

Officials said five men tied up the club's guard, before throwing two explosive devices, causing some damage to the building.

The club, known as the only place which served alcohol in Gaza City, was closed at the time.

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