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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
Kidnap compounds Gaza's crisis
By Matthew Price
BBC News, Erez Crossing, Gaza

Raed Atamna's long, yellow, Mercedes taxi rattles us over the potholes of northern Gaza. His car is old, tired, and slowly falling apart. A little like Gaza itself.

Palestinian journalists call for Johnston's release
Gazans have held regular protests calling for Johnston's release
He stops at the Palestinian side of the crossing point between Gaza and Israel, where a row of taxis stand idle under the hot Mediterranean sun.

"There's no business. Business has finished completely," Raed says. "There's nothing. No journalists. Business has dropped since the kidnap."

Alan Johnston was kidnapped eight long weeks ago.

He must - by now - be the most recognised western face in Gaza. Several times a week rallies have been held calling for his release.

His picture has been held aloft on countless posters. Most of the rallies have been organised by Palestinian journalists.

They are concerned about Alan Johnston's safety, but as Nidal al-Mugrabi from the Gaza Committee to Protect Journalists says, they're also worried about their own future.

Nidal al-Mugrabi<BR>Gaza Committee to Protect Journalists
We are afraid that Gaza will be classified as one of the most dangerous places in the world... countries will stop sending foreign journalists, business people, and aid workers into Gaza. Gaza will be forgotten
Nidal al-Mugrabi
Gaza Committee to Protect Journalists

"We are afraid that Gaza will be classified as one of the most dangerous places in the world. We're worried countries will stop sending foreign journalists, business people, and aid workers into Gaza. Gaza will be forgotten."

Deterioration

To a certain extent his worst fears are already coming true.

Gaza is deteriorating - and fast. Street battles between rival security forces or clans have killed many.

The kidnap threat for westerners is constantly high. Internet cafes, restaurants and a Christian bookshop have been targeted.

Even the United Nations is becoming a target.

In early May a radical group claimed responsibility for an attack on a UN-run school in the southern Gaza Strip. In a statement it said a festival being held at the school was not in keeping with Islamic values.

Radicalism prospers

John Ging is one of a handful of Westerners who do remain in Gaza. He's the director of UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Earlier this year his armoured car was shot at as he drove towards Gaza City.

People can not move in and out of Gaza. There's no economic activity. The cycle of violence that people have endured here has been ferocious... that's fertile ground for radicalism
John Ging
United Nations
"In the autumn of 2005 we had almost 100 UN international staff here. We have reduced to something around ten to 15," Mr Ging said.

"Simply put there is a closure regime. People can not move in and out of Gaza. There's no economic activity. The cycle of violence that people have endured here has been ferocious.

"All of those conditions combine to create despair among the population. That's fertile ground for radicalism and people are struggling to survive."

Radicalism is something which many in Gaza are beginning to fear.

"If the violence continues will we begin to see more radicalisation of politics," says Nidal al-Mugrabi from the Gaza Committee to Protect Journalists.

Alan Johnston
Johnston was the only Western reporter based permanently in Gaza

"Maybe it will give birth to more extreme groups that would target foreigners on the basis of nationality or religion."

At the long, grim, depressing walkway that leads out of Gaza and into Israel, some Palestinian workers are painting the walls.

The officials who normally check foreigners in and out of Gaza though are sitting around, idle. Few are passing through for now.

Eight weeks ago the officials gave a cheery smile to Alan Johnston, a man who they had got to know well.

They checked his passport, and then he strode through, towards his Gaza home. A couple of hours later he was kidnapped.

Ever since, it's not just been him who is suffering. Gaza is also feeling the effects.


VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Journalists in Gaza call for Alan Johnston's release





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