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Kidnapped Red Cross delegate is freed

The kidnapping was confirmed by the ICRC in Geneva Keystone

A Swiss delegate of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), who was kidnapped in the Gaza Strip earlier on Tuesday, has been freed.

This content was published on March 14, 2006 - 20:59

Official confirmation of the news came on Tuesday evening from the ICRC headquarters in Geneva.

"I can confirm happily that Julien Grosclaude, our delegate who works in Khan Younis in Gaza, was released late Tuesday afternoon," ICRC spokeswoman Antonella Notari told swissinfo.

"He's been released unconditionally and he is well," she added.

Notari said that the ICRC still did not know who the kidnappers were and the reasons behind Grosclaude's kidnapping.

The organisation had earlier announced that Grosclaude had been snatched at gunpoint at around 1.30pm local time. He had managed to make a phone call to say that he had not been harmed, the organisation said.

The ICRC had called for his release, adding that the targeting of humanitarian workers was "totally unacceptable".

Grosclaude had been working in Gaza since May 2005 on projects providing assistance and protection to the Palestinian population.

The Swiss was among a number of foreign hostages seized on Tuesday. Some of them were also reported to have been freed.

Sources close to the Palestinian security services indicated that the kidnappers were probably members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

The Swiss foreign ministry had condemned the kidnappings and said in a statement that it was "following with concern the deteriorating situaion in the Occupied Palestinian Territory".

Jail stormed

Earlier in the day Palestinian militants had warned they would take foreigners hostage after Israeli forces stormed a jail in the West Bank town of Jericho.

They were trying to seize the PFLP leader, Ahmed Saadat, who is wanted by Israel in connection with the killing of the country's tourism minister in 2001.

Under a 2002 deal with Israel, Saadat was guarded by prison monitors from Britain and the United States. But the monitors were withdrawn on Tuesday amid claims that the Palestinians had failed to implement security improvements.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the raid and criticised the decision by US and British guards to abandon their posts before the raid.

"The American and the British side bear full responsibility for any harm to the lives" of the prisoners, including Ahmed Saadat, Abbas said in a statement released by his office.

At least 150 Palestinian prisoners and guards gave themselves up, Israeli military sources said. Saadat was eventually captured.

Israel said the decision was taken to storm the jail because of reports that Saadat could be released – a possibility raised by Hamas after it won a January election and by Abbas last week.

Protests erupted across the Palestinian territories, with most anger directed at Britain and the US. Militants set the British cultural centre on fire and stormed the European Union compound in Gaza.

In its statement, the Swiss foreign ministry said it strongly disapproved of the operation launched by Israeli forces against the Jericho prison and called on all parties to end the violence.

swissinfo

Key facts

The Swiss-run ICRC works mainly to protect the victims of armed conflict and internal violence by providing humanitarian assistance and conducting prisoner of war visits.
It monitors compliance of the Geneva Conventions, which outline the rules of law in times of war and occupation, including the treatment of PoWs.
A team of six expatriate delegates and 28 Palestinian staff work for the ICRC in the Gaza Strip.

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