Journalists questioned over hostage video

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The Independent Online
REUTERS, the international news organisation, is reviewing its recruiting procedures after four of its Arab journalists - who obtained a videotape of a kidnapped Israeli soldier from the Islamic guerrilla group Hamas - were arrested by Palestinian authorities.

The four, all Palestinians who work in the Gaza Strip, were still being questioned yesterday. The soldier, three of his Hamas abductors and an Israeli commando officer were killed in an abortive rescue attempt last Friday.

Israeli officials said security forces were co-operating with Palestinian police to find out how the videotapes were obtained and the extent of the journalists' contacts with Hamas.

The release of the videotapes helped to persuade the Israeli government that the hostage was held in Gaza, officials said. In fact, he was in a West Bank 'safe house'. Israel held Yasser Arafat responsible, called off peace talks and forced the PLO leader to round up Hamas extremists in Gaza, provoking violent demonstrations by Muslim fundamentalists.

A spokesman for the Israeli government, Uri Dromi, said Israel wanted to find out whether the journalists had helped Hamas to mislead the security forces. 'We understand that you have to have connections to work in Gaza, but it is always a thin line and we want to know more,' he said.

The four are Gaza reporter Taher Shriteh, cameraman Shams Oudeh, soundman Sawah Abu Seif and photographer Ahmed Jadallah. Israeli officials said Jadallah's brother Salah was one of the three gunmen killed in Friday night's shoot-out.

A Hamas statement from Damascus on Saturday named him as one of its 'martyrs'.

Reuters issued a statement saying that Salah Jadallah had also worked on an occasional basis for Reuters Television earlier this year. 'Reuters, like many news organisations, hired Palestinians on an ad hoc basis to assist crews,' said bureau chief Robert Mahoney. 'Since June we have had no contact whatsoever with Salah Jadallah.'

Reuters has acknowledged that Mr Oudeh filmed a masked activist holding the soldier's identity card. But it is not yet known who made a second tape in which the teenager pleaded for his life.

The four detained men have worked with a wide range of international news media (including the Independent) on a freelance basis.

All were detained, released and then re-arrested last Thursday by Palestinian security men in Gaza City. Mr Rabin has said that Israel learnt the true whereabouts of the captive by Friday morning. Hamas has accused Mr Arafat of communicating the information to Israel, but Palestinian authorities deny this.

Mark Wood, Reuters editor-in-chief, said he was concerned about the news organisation being connected even tenuously with the kidnapping. Reuters prides itself on absolute impartiality, and Mr Wood said it did not want to be associated with any political or terrorist organisation.

AMMAN (Reuter) - King Hussein of Jordan and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israel Prime Minister, ended more than seven hours' talks early this morning without resolving differences that are blocking a peace treaty between their two countries, an official Jordanian statement said.

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