IMAGE: Emilio Morenatti
Roberto Schmidt  /  AFP - Getty Images file
This picture taken in September 2005 shows Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti in the dismantled Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim.
updated 10/24/2006 6:01:30 PM ET 2006-10-24T22:01:30

An Associated Press photographer was released late Tuesday after a day in the hands of Palestinian gunmen.

The photographer, Emilio Morenatti, was abducted at gunpoint in front of an AP apartment in Gaza City on Tuesday morning. An AP reporter in Gaza saw Morenatti after he was freed.

Morenatti, a 37-year-old Spaniard, was taken by Fatah officials to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Gaza City. The photographer said he was tired but unharmed.

There was no claim of responsibility for the abduction — the latest in a string of kidnappings of foreigners in Gaza.

Morenatti was seized as he headed out of his Gaza City apartment for an AP car, where Majed Hamdan, an AP driver and translator, was waiting. Hamdan said four gunmen grabbed his keys and cell phone and told him to turn away, pressing a gun to his head and threatening to harm him if he moved.

They took Morenatti, shoving him into a white Volkswagen Golf and driving off, Hamdan said.

In the past two years, militants have frequently kidnapped foreigners as bargaining chips to get relatives released from Palestinian prisons, secure government jobs or settle personal scores. In most cases, the kidnappings were brief and the hostages released unharmed.

Change in kidnapping tactics
But recently, the kidnappers have changed tactics. Two Fox News journalists kidnapped in August were held for two weeks, much longer than previous cases. The men also suffered physical and mental abuse in captivity.

An unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades claimed responsibility for the August abduction, and its demand for the release of Muslim prisoners held by the U.S. raised fears that foreign extremists, perhaps al-Qaida, had infiltrated Gaza. But Palestinian security officials said the name was a front for local militants.

In New York, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Curley said earlier Tuesday that the company was doing everything possible to find Morenatti.

“Emilio has spent his career representing the values that AP stands for — truthful, accurate journalism that tells all sides of the story. It is a sad development when the men and women the world rely on to bring them objective news are subject to such dangers. No cause or motive can justify such senseless action,” Curley said.

And Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas told the AP he had instructed his interior minister, who oversees most security forces in Gaza, to solve the case.

Saeb Erekat, a confidant of Abbas, had also condemned the kidnapping, saying it “harms Palestinian interests.”

Abbas, Spanish officials worked for release
Abbas had spoken to Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos earlier Tuesday and assured him he was doing everything in his power to win Morenatti’s release, Erekat said. Spanish diplomats confirmed that Moratinos, a former EU Mideast envoy, was personally involved in the case.

In the U.S., the media advocacy groups Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the kidnapping.

“We’re dismayed that journalists have become pawns of Palestinian groups seeking to exploit them for political purposes,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “These blatant attacks on journalists will have a chilling effect on their ability to do their work and will ultimately deprive the world of information about this critically important story.”

Morenatti, from Jerez, Spain, has been based in Jerusalem since April 2005, handling periodic assignments in Gaza and the West Bank. He has been in Gaza since Sunday.

Morenatti began working for the AP in April 2004, and spent a year in Afghanistan covering the conflict there. He also covered the war in Lebanon and the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany.

In 1992, Morenatti began work as a photographer with EFE, the Spanish news agency, Spain.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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