updated 1/1/2006 7:55:38 AM ET 2006-01-01T12:55:38

An Italian abducted Sunday by Palestinian gunman was released Sunday afternoon, a European parliament deputy said, citing Palestinian police. The deputy, Luisa Morgantini, said the unidentified man was traveling with a European parliament delegation. Morgantini had no further details.

Earlier in the day, Palestinian gunmen stopped a minibus carrying foreigners in the Gaza town of Khan Younis and kidnapped at least one of the passengers, a Palestinian Cabinet minister and witnesses said.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Sufian Abu Zaydeh told Israel Radio that two people were abducted, but witnesses said only one man was taken away by the gunmen — an Italian.

The witnesses said the minibus was carrying 10 foreigners. They said the gunmen approached in two cars, forced one passenger out and herded him into one of their vehicles before speeding away.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

The abduction is the latest in a rash of kidnappings in Gaza since Israel’s withdrawal from the coastal strip in September. On Friday, three Britons were released after being held by gunmen for two days.

Palestinian security officials said the Britons were abducted by gunmen with ties to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah party. The kidnappers said they were members of a previously unknown group, the Mujahedeen Brigades Jerusalem Branch.

The group threatened more abductions of foreigners if Israel did not abolish a “no-go” zone it declared last week on its border with Gaza in the north. Israel put the area off-limits last week in an effort to prevent militants from firing rockets into Israel from there, and threatened to shoot anyone entering the zone.

Late Saturday, two Palestinians were killed in an Israeli air strike on the zone.

Wave of lawlessness
The abductions are part of an increasing wave of lawlessness on Palestinian streets in recent months, with armed gangs storming government buildings and election offices and shooting at each other in the streets. Some Palestinian officials, including Abu Zaydeh, have urged postponement of Jan. 25 Palestinian parliamentary elections considering the growing chaos.

Militants have kidnapped foreigners as bargaining chips to get relatives released from Palestinian prisons, secure jobs from the Palestinian Authority or settle personal scores. The kidnappings have all been relatively brief, and all the hostages have been released unharmed.

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