My thoughts and prayers are with Alan Johnston, his family, friends and colleagues at the BBC. Many of you are aware that Alan, the experienced and respected BBC correspondent in Gaza, was presumably kidnapped five weeks ago by masked gunman. On Sunday, a fax sent to various media organisations claimed Alan Johnston had been killed. While there has been no proof of his death, whatever his fate, circumstances for Alan must be dire.
This kidnapping has been a devastating blow to the Palestinian people and their government. The Palestinians are struggling with survival in an area burdened by economic hardship and volatile politics. It is not the Palestinians' custom, nor is it in their interests to harm or abduct foreigners or journalists. In recent months, small splinter groups have kidnapped a handful of foreigners in Gaza; all have been released quickly in exchange for money or government favours.
Alan Johnston has reported not only the news, but the back-stories of daily challenges of life for Gaza residents. Without his voice informing the Western media, many stories will go unreported. Palestinian journalists have been protesting Johnston's disappearance for several weeks, in daily demonstrations of solidarity and strikes. The BBC, Sky News, Al Jazeera and CNN have hosted simultaneous appeals about Johnson's whereabouts. The reporter was abducted as he returned home March 12 from his Gaza office.
The BBC has issued a statement saying it is deeply concerned about the latest news. "But we stress that at this stage," it says, "it is rumour with no independent verification." The Palestinian Authority said it had no information confirming Johnston's fate.
Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat urged those holding Johnston to free him. "Such despicable acts of abducting foreign journalists and others continue; the only (thing) that this is doing is destroying us as Palestinians, destroying the just cause of the Palestinian people," he told reporters. "So I urge those who abducted Johnston, instead of circulating rumours - and I hope these rumours are only rumours - is to release him immediately and without any conditions."
A spokeswoman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London said they were urgently looking into the latest reports about Johnston. The splinter group claiming to have killed Alan Johnston is little known in Palestinian areas, the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said.
Alan Johnston has been the only Western reporter permanently based in Gaza. He had been preparing to leave once his three-year placement finished at the end of March.