AP Cameraman Recounts Gaza Kidnapping

By: NICKY DE BLOIS, Associated Press Writer

(AP) I had just stepped from my truck after a day working near the Egyptian border when a white Subaru pulled up: I was about to become Gaza’s latest kidnapping victim.

In a matter of seconds, I was sitting in the car, flanked by two gunmen, flying through chaotic streets. In the end, a strange confluence — poor roads, a huge Hamas rally and a brave colleague chasing us in hot pursuit — rescued me from potential harm.

I have been covering the Gaza Strip as an APTN cameraman since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising five years ago. I know the area well and always travel with Palestinian colleagues. After a recent string of kidnappings of foreign journalists and aid workers, we recently had begun employing unarmed security guards when we went out on assignments.

My colleague Jalal Hassan Ali and I had dropped off our guards Sunday evening and parked our armored GMC outside our Gaza City apartment when the Subaru pulled up next to us.

At first, it appeared the car had broken down, and I thought the people inside were asking for assistance. Then, two men with AK-47 automatic rifles grabbed me by each arm and forced me into the back seat of the Subaru with two other gunmen. Jalal pleaded with them to release me, but they ignored his calls and sped off.

The roads of Gaza are notoriously poor, and when the Subaru hit a dirt pile at high speed, it stalled. That gave Jalal time to get into our vehicle, marked “TV,” and catch up. Jalal rammed into the kidnappers’ car, forcing it into the middle of a traffic circle conveniently located in front of the residence of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The commotion involving a TV car drew the attention of Abbas’ guards. As my captors drove off in their damaged vehicle, followed closely by Jalal, two vehicles from Abbas’ entourage joined the chase.

I exchanged few words with my captors. “How are you,” I asked in Arabic. “Praise God,” one of them answered. That was our only conversation during the 20-minute ordeal.

After that, they were in a panic and in no mood to chat. The gunmen were screaming at each other as the driver frantically tried to push through the traffic. The man in the front passenger seat smashed open his window with his AK-47 and began firing at Jalal. I knew he was safe in the armored car, and fortunately none of the shots hit the vehicle.

The chase continued deeper into Gaza City, and I remember only a blur of sounds and images: The frustrated kidnappers screaming and honking. The screeching sound of damaged tires scraping against the metal chassis. Gunshots whooshing through the air. Curious onlookers and donkey carts on the roadsides.

The driver ran several stoplights. But the militant group Hamas was staging a large victory rally to celebrate the recent Israeli pullout from Gaza, and traffic was heavy.

That enabled Jalal to drive over a divider in the road and overtake our vehicle. He skidded in front of us and forced the Subaru to stop.

I was free.

Masked Hamas militants rushed to the car to see what was happening, and Palestinian police quickly arrived. The four gunmen managed to flee in the ensuing confusion, though three later were arrested.

Police drove me back to Abbas’ office, where Palestinian officials offered me coffee and refreshments. I learned that the gunmen had hoped to use me to secure the release of a relative held in a Palestinian prison.

The tactic has become increasingly common in lawless Gaza, where rogue gangs of gunmen wield as much influence as security forces. Fortunately, my captors made a series of errors — not the least of which was challenging Jalal.

“In our tradition, if you have a friend with you and someone attacks him, you have to save him, even if you lose your life,” Jalal explained. “This is exactly what I did.”

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