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Last Updated: Sunday, 1 January 2006, 15:50 GMT
Italian man seized in Gaza freed
An Italian peace activist has been freed after being abducted and held briefly by gunmen in the Gaza Strip.

The man was seized in the southern town of Khan Younis as he visited with a group of other foreigners, including two European Union parliamentarians.

Palestinian security forces surrounded the area and said the captors fled.

The latest in a series of kidnappings in the increasingly lawless Gaza Strip came hours after Palestinian chief Mahmoud Abbas pledged to restore order.

The abduction of the man, named as Alessandro Bernardini, came two days after the release of three British hostages.

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

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

Political motives

The party of visiting foreigners was about to board a bus when it was confronted by masked gunmen.

Shots were fired in the air and the Italian peace activist was singled out and driven away, the BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says.

It has emerged that the Italian's kidnappers were linked to the ruling Fatah political party, but it is not clear what their demands were, our correspondent says.

Uncertainty also surrounds exactly how the release came about.

Often small armed groups have used foreign hostages in their disputes with the government in Gaza.

However some observers believe the current upsurge of unrest has political motives, with certain elements possibly trying to destabilise Gaza in the run-up to this month's parliamentary elections.




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