Spanish aid worker freed unharmed in Gaza

Date: 10-30-06

GAZA (Reuters) - A Spanish aid worker was freed unharmed by kidnappers in Gaza on Monday, hours after they took him from his car near the southern town of Khan Younis.

The kidnapped man, Roberto Villa Sexto, 32, of the Spanish charity Cooperative Assembly for Peace, had been working in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank for two years, the organisation's spokeswoman said in Madrid.

A Palestinian internal security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said security officials had managed to identify the abductors and pressure them to release their captive.

"We will continue to chase the kidnappers and bring them to justice because these actions harm the image of the Palestinian people and Spanish-Palestinian relations," he told Reuters.

Villa was rushed back to Gaza City's Beach Hotel where armed security men escorted him into the building through a scrum of news photographers.

He did not speak to waiting reporters. A Spanish diplomatic official at the scene said he was very tired and would talk on another occasion.

The identity of the kidnappers was not made public. It was the latest in a series of such abductions in the territory.

Palestinian Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal said the abductors freed Villa when they realised the net was closing in on them and they heard that Interior Minister Saeed Seyam had ordered they be dealt with harshly.

"They will be captured in the coming days and will be brought to court," Abu Hilal said.

Earlier, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, looking angry, said the abductors were harming the cause of all Palestinians through their actions.

"This is a pointless action which we reject. We will uncover the identity of the people who are behind the kidnapping, we will track them down ... and we will not allow them to damage the image of the civilised Palestinian people," Haniyeh said.

Last week, Palestinian gunmen kidnapped a Spanish photographer working for the Associated Press in Gaza, keeping him captive for more than 12 hours before pressure from Palestinian officials secured his release.

Previous kidnappings of foreigners have usually ended after a few hours or days with the release of the prisoners unharmed.

(Additional reporting by Corinne Heller in Jerusalem and Joe Ortiz in Madrid)


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