Abid Katib  /  Getty Images
A Palestinian militant watches as plumes of smoke rise from the offices of the British Cultural Center in Gaza City after it came under attack by militants on Tuesday.
msnbc.com news services
updated 3/14/2006 11:52:52 AM ET 2006-03-14T16:52:52

Palestinian militants swept through the Gaza Strip and West Bank on Tuesday, taking several foreigners hostage, including an American university professor, hours after an Israeli army raid of a West Bank prison.

Angry Palestinians accused Britain and the U.S. of complicity in the raid, in which Israel is seeking to force the surrender of a top Palestinian militant, the alleged mastermind of the 2001 assassination of an Israeli cabinet minister.

Eight gunmen abducted Douglas Johnson, a professor of English at the American University in the town of Jenin as he was buying something from a vendor on the street, Johnson told The Associated Press.

The gunmen threatened to kill him if Israeli harmed one of the main targets of the raid, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Saadat. He was freed hours later, according to university officials.

Two French women working for an aid group were taken hostage in the Gaza Strip, a French foreign ministry spokesman said. French authorities were in contact with aid group Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, and the Palestinian Authority in an effort to win the release of the two women, ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

Australian teachers released
Palestinian militants kidnapped also two Australian teachers in Gaza but they were released not longer after the abduction.

Gunmen also abducted three journalists — two South Koreans and one French — from a Gaza City hotel frequented by foreigners, security officials and witnesses said.

And the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that masked gunmen abducted a Swiss national from a local office. The hostage was identified as Red Cross employee Julien Grosclaude, said agency spokeswoman Maria del Pilar Vanegas.

Armed militants in Gaza were searching local hotels for foreigners, Israeli radio reported.

Citizens of at least four countries took refuge Tuesday at an office of the Palestinian security services, amid threats by gunmen to kidnap foreigners. Among those seeking the protection of the Preventive Security Services were citizens of France, Britain, Germany and South Korea, security officials said.

The Gaza police chief ordered his forces to open fire on gunmen trying to attack foreigners.

Protestors: 'There are no red lines'
The Islamic militant group Hamas, due to form the next Palestinian government, urged Palestinians to rally at the jail and warned Israel against harming Saadat.

Israel’s biggest raid for months followed Palestinian suggestions that Saadat might be freed.

Israel says Saadat ordered the killing of Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in 2001. The PFLP, one of the smaller groups waging a Palestinian uprising, said it assassinated Zeevi to avenge the killing of one of its leaders.

Protesters and PFLP supporters took to the streets, chanting, "Death to the Americans! Death to the British!," attacked offices with ties to the United States and Britain.

"There are no red lines, any European is subject to kidnapping and killing," chanted PFLP militants, firing in the air.

In Gaza City, about 300 demonstrators, including dozens of gunmen, broke into the European Commission building and raised the PFLP flag on the roof. They also torched the British council offices and burned the cars of people who work there. Police protecting that building left after a brief shootout with the gunmen.

The Foreign Office advised British citizens against travelling to the Palestinian territories, citing security threats and kidnapping of foreigners in Gaza.

Gunmen also briefly stormed the offices of AMIDEAST, a private organization that provides English classes and testing services.

In Jenin, two dozen Palestinian gunmen fired in the air. Their leader, Zakariya Zubeydi from the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, said he and his followers would now target Americans and Britons.

“We will fight against every American and British person in the Palestinian lands,” he said. “We will fight against the American and British interests everywhere because of what happened at the Jericho prison.”

U.N. jeep comes under fire
Earlier, a spokesman for the militant group warned American and British citizens to leave the territories or they would be kidnapped.

"We call upon all American and British citizens to leave Palestinian territories immediately otherwise they will be subject to kidnapping and other consequences," said Abu Qusai, the spokesman.

A jeep carrying U.N. aid workers came under fire in northern Gaza on Tuesday, but none of the passengers was injured, Palestinian security officials said.

The jeep, driven by a Palestinian, carried two foreigners, who were heading out of Gaza amid growing threats against foreign nationals.

Also Tuesday, Palestinian police clashed with PFLP gunmen who were trying to kidnap a foreigner near the Jordanian diplomatic mission in Gaza City. The police took the foreigner to a safer place.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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