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Page last updated at 16:41 GMT, Thursday, 11 March 2010

Hamas releases British journalist Paul Martin

Paul Martin leaving Gaza
Mr Martin was taken by a British diplomatic convoy to Israel

Hamas has released a British journalist it had held for a month in Gaza, saying at a news conference that it suspects him of being a spy.

Mr Martin denied the allegation and said his release was a "great victory for the rights of journalists".

No charges were brought against Mr Martin, but he was made to leave Gaza on the orders of Hamas.

At the media conference senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahhar said he believed Mr Martin was "a spy".

"I address that he is a spy for Israel," Mr Zahar said, in response to a question in English from a journalist.

Mr Martin was arrested on 15 February. Hamas said he had "committed offences that harmed the security of the country" but gave no further detail.

'Difficult story'

"My release is a great victory for the right of journalists to be able to cover difficult stories in a fearless and accurate way without being subject to arrest, or worse at the hands of a group that dislikes their journalism," Mr Martin said.

FROM BBC WORLD SERVICE

"I was never accused of any crime although I was interrogated for something which was blatantly impossible for me to have done. I think eventually it was realised that there was no case against me, but it took a long time for extremely suspicious security people to absorb this message."

His wife said she was "extremely relieved" that Mr Martin had been released.

Mr Martin's lawyer said the allegations were "ridiculous" .

His family also strongly rejected them, saying he was an innocent journalist.

'Threat'

Mr Martin "met criminals, committed crimes and took activities against our security," said Mr Zahar.

"He tried to play at dangerous things threatening the lives and the interests of the Palestinian Authority here," he said.

He also said Mr Martin had "been in contact with suspicious people who in the past have been proven to be agents".

He has been forbidden from returning to either Gaza or the West Bank, Hamas said, although its authority does not extend to the West Bank, which is run by the rival Fatah movement.

Mr Martin had gone to Gaza to give evidence in the defence of a Palestinian man he had interviewed, who had been accused of spying for Israel.

The journalist and film-maker was handed over to a delegation from the British consulate and driven in a diplomatic vehicle to the Erez crossing with Israel.

Mr Martin was originally held for two weeks. Hamas then announced his detention would be extended to a month.

Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 after winning elections there in 2006.



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