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BBC journalist Johnston freed in Gaza

By Xinhua

Beijing : BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who had been held hostage in the Gaza Strip for months, was handed over by his captors to ruling Hamas officials on Wednesday, a Palestinian source involved in the talks for his release told the press.

The 45-year-old Briton was taken into the care of officials from the Hamas movement. "He is sitting with his colleagues from the BBC office in Gaza, he is talking to them and he looks fine and well."

Earlier on Tuesday, the Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoom told reporters in Gaza that his movement had decided to "end the phenomenon of the Army of Islam" — the captors of Johnston.

"The Army of Islam is an armed militia which tries to justify their criminal actions by Islam," he said.

Hamas forces on the same day surrounded an area in Gaza City inhabited by the clan where the Army of Islam has the bulk of its supporters and where Hamas believed Johnston was being held.

Hamas' police called the Executive Force vowed Tuesday it would "continue to besiege the area until British journalist Alan Johnston is freed."

Johnston, who was kidnapped on March 12, has been held far longer than any foreign correspondents abducted in Gaza.

A radical group calling itself the Army of Islam, an al Qaeda-inspired group with links to one of Gaza's powerful clans, claimed responsibility for kidnapping and demanded Britain to free al-Qaida leaders in exchange for the reporter.

Over the past two days, the executive forces of Hamas, which seized control of the Gaza Strip last month, traded kidnappings with the group and members of Doghmoush clan, which provides refuge for Johnston's kidnappers.