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Hamas Releases Held British Reporter

Thursday, 11 March 2010 11:04 AM

GAZA CITY — Hamas released on Thursday a British reporter held in its Gaza enclave, the only foreigner to be arrested in the territory since the Islamist group seized power in 2007.

A clean-shaven and apparently healthy Martin told reporters on the Gaza side of the Erez crossing with Israel that his release was a "great victory for the freedom of the media."

"I've been through a lot in the last few days and weeks," he added, before being whisked to the crossing in an armoured vehicle.

A press conference to mark the release was held at the house of senior Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahar, who accused Martin of being a "spy for Israel" and said he would not be allowed to return to Gaza.

Martin was arrested on February 14 in a Gaza courtroom while testifying for a friend accused of "collaborating with Israel."

The charges levelled against Martin largely describe the work of the dozens of journalists and researchers who regularly operate in Gaza with little interference from Hamas authorities.

Zahar said Martin had "recruited a large number of private drivers and translators to gather information and to work for him.

"He tried to contact leaders to ask them about technical things and he went to the tunnels to try to investigate and confirm that the Palestinian side was smuggling weapons," he added, referring to the extensive network of smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.

"He was trying to distort the image of the Palestinians and trying to prove that Hamas uses children as human shields, and he failed in this," Zahar said.

Martin was released to British consular officials and taken to the consulate in Jerusalem, the British Foreign Office said, adding that "consular staff in Gaza have been in regular contact with him throughout his detention."

Martin's family in Britain welcomed the news.

"We are extremely relieved that Paul has been released and pleased that the authorities responded to our appeals," his wife Anne said in a statement.

"Paul is an experienced and highly regarded foreign correspondent with thirty years' experience. He is an innocent man who went into Gaza to testify in the trial of a Palestinian whom he had interviewed for a documentary."

She added that Martin had "maintained his innocence throughout this ordeal" and that he had sent a letter through the Red Cross 12 days into his detention saying that he was "physically, mentally and spiritually fine."

Britain had expressed concern over Martin's case, as had the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association, which said he had been freelancing in the region for the past five years and was also a filmmaker.

The Hamas-run government said his release was negotiated with British and South African diplomats.

Hamas, which swept the last Palestinian parliamentary elections held in 2006, remains blacklisted by the European Union and the United States as a "terrorist organisation."

It seized power in Gaza in 2007 after a week of street battles in which it routed forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

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GAZA CITY — Hamas released on Thursday a British reporter held in its Gaza enclave, the only foreigner to be arrested in the territory since the Islamist group seized power in 2007.
Thursday, 11 March 2010 11:04 AM
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