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Italian journalist and activist reportedly killed in Gaza

(IPI/IFEX) - 15 April 2011 - Hamas officials have said they found the body of an Italian journalist and activist who was kidnapped yesterday in Gaza, reports say. Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, was affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a pro-Palestinian rights group, and reported on Palestinian issues for the left-wing Italian newspaper Il Manifesto and Peacereporter, and also wrote a blog, according to a report on the ISM website.

The journalist was kidnapped yesterday by a militant Islamist group, which released a YouTube video saying that they would kill Arrigoni unless Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, released a number of political prisoners, reports say. But before the Friday evening deadline had passed, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza announced that the activist's body had been found, reports said.

Hamas has said that one suspect is now in custody, CNN reported on its website today.

"Our heartfelt condolences go out to Vittorio Arrigoni's family, friends and colleagues," said IPI Director Alison Bethel McKenzie. "By all accounts, this was a courageous journalist and activist who chose to remain in Gaza even when it was under attack. We are appalled at his death and call on the authorities to fully investigate and prosecute those responsible. It is unacceptable for human lives to be used as bargaining chips."

Hamas is also designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and others. Hamas officials have governed Gaza in a parallel government since 2007, after a post-election battle with Fatah, the political group that now dominates the Western-recognized Palestinian National Authority, whose effective control is limited to the West Bank.

In 2007, Hamas helped to free BBC correspondent Alan Johnston after he was held captive by terrorists for four months, and there has been a "history of bad blood" between the rival Islamist groups since then, the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency reported.

The outcry against Arrigoni's death has been immediate. An ISM co-founder, Huwaida Arraf, told Maan News Agency, "He was more Palestinian than the criminals that killed him."

The website of the Italian daily Il Manifesto, which Arrigoni wrote for, carried the headline "Restiamo Umani" ("Let's Remain Human"), a phrase they say the journalist and activist repeatedly used when discussing the situation in the Palestinian Territories.

"It hurt really badly [to see the video of Arrigoni], if we consider the work that Vittorio has been carrying out from 2008 until today to inform always, at any time, through his blog, on Facebook and through articles on various websites, about what happened in Gaza," colleague Michele Giorgio wrote on in an editorial for Il Manifesto. "Without a moment of rest, even at night."

Officials in Rome condemned "in the strongest manner the act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life," Maan News Agency reported.

The Palestinian National Authority called the murder "a dark page in our history, "Italian news agency AGI reported today.

And a spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in Gaza said that Hamas "condemns the heinous crime that does not reflect our values, our religion or our custom and tradition," AGI said.

But journalists working in the Gaza Strip have frequently complained of attacks and harassment by Hamas forces. Protests in Gaza last month calling for an end to the rivalry between Hamas and Fatah were violently dispersed, and journalists covering the demonstrations were targeted. The offices of Reuters, Japan TV, CNN and other news agencies were attacked, and individual reporters received death threats, the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms said in a report last month.

In October last year, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate's (PJS) headquarters in Gaza were shut down. Although the syndicate is now operating again, their officer Amal Touman was prevented from leaving Gaza to attend an International Federation of Journalists meeting in Morocco this week, PJS President Abdel Nasser Al-Najjar told IPI by phone from Casablanca today.

Al-Najjar called Arrigoni's death a "horrible incident" and a "big crime," and said that perhaps people will now "be aware that these groups will damage the opportunity for freedom of the press and the peace process."

Il Manifesto had planned journalist demonstrations calling for Arrigoni's release in Milan, Rome, Turin and other cities for this afternoon. These will now be turned into memorials, the newspaper's website said.

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    (RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders is overjoyed at the news that British journalist Alan Johnston was released in the early hours of 4 July 2007 in Gaza as a result of the intervention of senior Muslim clerics and negotiations between Hamas and his kidnappers. The BBC correspondent had been held hostage for 114 days.



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