IMAGE: Emilio Morenatti
Hatem Moussa  /  AP
Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti, center, is escorted by a Palestinian police officer after his release in Gaza City late Tuesday.
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updated 10/25/2006 12:54:43 PM ET 2006-10-25T16:54:43

EDITOR’S NOTE: Associated Press photographer Emilio Morenatti was the latest foreigner kidnapped in an increasingly chaotic Gaza Strip. This is the 37-year-old Spaniard’s account of his 16 hours in captivity.

I was supposed to spend Tuesday photographing scavengers picking through Gaza’s abandoned Jewish settlements.

Just before 7 a.m., I took my cameras and lenses and left my apartment in Gaza City to meet my friend Majed Hamdan, an Associated Press driver and translator waiting for me on the street.

But before I could get into the car, a white Volkswagen Golf raced up and blocked our way. Four men with Kalashnikov assault rifles jumped out. They grabbed me, threw me into their car and took off. Looking back, I saw Majed lying on the street with two men pointing rifles at his head.

My abductors pushed me down on the back seat and covered me with some kind of fabric, shouting, “Go down, go down” and “shut up” in English. About 15 minutes later, they rushed me out of the car and into a house, then shoved me into a small basement room where I was alone except for a few rats.

A sense of feverishness swept over me, leaving me feeling so fatigued that I almost fell asleep on the floor.

I was allowed to keep my wristwatch, so I knew five hours had passed by the time my captors came back. All were in jeans, black shirts and black masks. When I tried to speak with them, all they said was “shut up.”

One of them explained, in sign language, that if I tried to escape I would be shot. He told me this two or three times, trying to appear aggressive. But I gathered he was in his 20s — too young to seem really tough.

I saw that I was in a nice house. There was a high wall around it, and a well-tended garden with flowers.

Blindfolded and terrified
Then came the most terrifying moment. Someone blindfolded me. They told me to get on my knees and made me raise my hands. A thousand possibilities flooded my mind — one of them that they were about to kill me. I felt they might do something crazy.

Then they put a sack over my head, and over that a veil, dressing me in a woman’s robe. They gave me flip-flops that were half the size of my feet and made it difficult to walk. Then they took me out and put me in a car again and we started driving.

Some of my guards were women. Sitting in the back seat, I had a woman on my left. Another woman sat next to the driver with a baby who was crying and crying, ignoring attempts to quiet it.

This calmed me a bit, because I thought that maybe if I was with women and a baby, nothing too bad would happen to me.

I couldn’t see, but I could hear the sounds of Gaza City: noisy traffic, even police cars. The car stopped, and I was taken into another building and put in a room so dark I could barely see, even though they took off my blindfold. I could hear my captors having a furious discussion outside the door, but in Arabic, a language I don’t speak.

I was left alone for about seven hours.

Food and kindness
One woman brought me food: triangles of cheese and some meat, and a glass of tea. She tried to talk to me — something about Europe, America and Arab countries — but we couldn’t understand each other. She was kind to me.

When I needed to use the bathroom, they blindfolded me again and escorted me through a long courtyard to a toilet in a small, dirty room, and then they took me back. I could hear children in the courtyard. It seemed I was sharing a regular house with my captors.

I couldn’t tell if my guards were the same people who kidnapped me, or if I’d been passed on to someone else. All in all, there were as many as 15 different people during my captivity.

At one point, a woman blindfolded me again. I asked her if something bad was going to happen, and mimed a pistol pointed at my head. She said no, then added: “Halas,” or “that’s it,” which I thought meant I was going to be freed.

I could hear thunder outside, and rain coming down.

Suddenly one of my captors put a cell phone to my ear, and I heard a man’s voice speaking English with an Arabic accent. He didn’t identify himself. He told me everything would be OK, that I would be released soon.

One of the captors took me out and put me in a car. I had been blindfolded again and dressed in women’s clothing, but five minutes into the drive they let me take off the blindfold and the robe. I couldn’t make out where I was, but I saw a street awash from the rain.

They drove me to a building where members of the Palestinian security forces were milling around. Someone told me in English, “You are with us, you are safe.”

A policeman handed me a cell phone, and the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Moratinos, was on the line. We spoke for five minutes, and he told me my family had been very concerned, but now everything was fine.

From there I was taken to the office of President Mahmoud Abbas. I was led into a room filled with journalists and Palestinian officials. I embraced my AP colleagues, especially Majed. Police handed me my camera gear, cell phone and passport.

After all this, it might be hard to go back to Gaza. But I hope to do so soon.

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

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