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Unknown Palestinians release photographer after kidnapping

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – An Associated Press photographer was freed unharmed yesterday after a harrowing day in the hands of Palestinians who abducted him at gunpoint and dressed him in women’s clothes to spirit him from one secret location to another.

Emilio Morenatti was brought before midnight to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by Fatah officials. It was not clear who kidnapped him, though officials said he was taken by criminals. The government and main Palestinian groups denounced the abduction.

Morenatti, 37 years old , looked fatigued after his daylong ordeal but said he was unharmed.

“I’m tired but happy to have come back because there were very anguished moments,” said Morenatti.

He said the kidnappers held him in a small room, where he was kept for about four hours during which he was visited by masked men. Later he was put in a car dressed as a woman and taken to another location.

“They put a bag on my head and they dressed me up as a woman, as a woman in a long veil,” the photographer added.

Morenatti said he was blindfolded for much of the time, and that his captors spoke only Arabic, which he doesn’t speak.

“I didn’t know at any moment what they were doing,” he said. “They moved me but nobody explained anything to me. It was very confusing.”

The photographer said he was held in complete darkness for hours. In the second house where he was held, Morenatti said he heard the sounds of a family. He said he was given one meal of cheese and lunch meat early in the day and a portion of fruit later.

Morenatti did not know his captors. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s office said in a statement that the identity of the kidnappers was known and they “would be pursued.”

Tom Curley, AP’s president and chief executive officer, said, “The Associated Press is relieved that Emilio has been released, apparently unharmed. The security of our journalists is always our top concern. We appreciate the assistance offered by so many people in obtaining his release, especially Palestinian and Spanish officials.

“It is crucial, however, that journalists such as Emilio be able to freely report the news in areas of conflict. We will be investigating what happened to assure that he and others can continue their important work,” Curley said.

Morenatti’s family in Spain rejoiced at news of his release.

“We were all sitting around together and when we heard the news we yelled with joy and then we opened a bottle of rioja (wine) to celebrate,” Miguel Angel Morenatti, a brother of the photographer, told the AP.

“I managed to talk with Emilio for about 15 seconds and he told me that he was well both physically and mentally. The most important thing is that he is safe and free.”

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