updated 12/25/2004 3:35:36 AM ET 2004-12-25T08:35:36

Five children who became the focus of a bitter custody fight held a dramatic reunion with their mother early Christmas Day, six months after their Palestinian father took them from Sweden to the Gaza Strip.

Elizabeth Krantz greeted her children at a private location as they arrived in Kungsbacka in southwestern Sweden early Saturday morning following a daylong journey that began in Tel Aviv, Israel.

They traveled with their father, Ismail Nowajah, making the last leg of the journey, from Copenhagen, Denmark, to Kungsbacka by car.

But shortly after arriving in the small city, Nowajah appeared to backtrack from an apparent deal with the Swedish government that had allowed him to avoid arrest by letting the children remain with their mother.

Krantz maintains that her children were to live with her and not return to Gaza. It wasn’t known why Nowajah had the apparent change of heart, but police said he was being questioned.

Swedish government officials were mum on Nowajah’s detainment, and had no comment, saying only that the children had arrived in the Scandinavian country of 9 million.

'The best Christmas present'
For Sweden, the news was like a national Christmas gift, with the country’s newspapers and news channels posting “extra” editions on their Web sites.

“It will be the best Christmas ever. It’s the best Christmas present I ever can have,” Krantz exulted.

She said she would meet with the children at an undisclosed location before returning with them to her home.

Krantz’s ex-husband, a Gaza native, removed the children from their home June 4, saying he was taking them on vacation to Cairo, Egypt, and promising to bring them back.

However, the next day Nowajah sent them by taxi to his sister’s home in Gaza City, Krantz said. She said he called her two days after leaving Sweden and told her she would never see the children again.

Sara, 16, is the oldest, followed by 15-year-old Miriam, a diabetic; 12-year-old Zakaria; 9-year-old Amena; and 6-year-old Adam.

Krantz had limited contact with the children while they were with their father and said they were held against their will. The case drew major media attention in Sweden, while Swedish diplomats in Israel worked to obtain the children’s return.

On Friday, Krantz told AP that Swedish diplomats in Israel were behind the deal to bring the kids back in time for the Christmas holidays, despite little communication about her case during the six months they were in Gaza.

In September, Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds raised the issue with senior Palestinian Authority officials during a visit there. In August, a Swedish court charged Nowajah in absentia with arbitrary conduct with children.

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