Hamas releases British scribe held in Gaza

GAZA: Hamas today released a British reporter held in its Gaza enclave, the only foreigner to be arrested in the territory since the Islamist group seized power in June 2007.

A clean-shaven and apparently healthy Martin told reporters on

the Gaza side of the Erez crossing with Israel that his release was

a “great victory for the freedom

of the media.”

“I’ve been through a lot in last few days and weeks,” he added, before being whisked to the crossing in an armoured vehicle.

A press conference to mark the release was held at the house of senior Hamas leader Mahmud al-Zahar, who said Martin was “not welcome in the Palestinian territories” and would not be allowed to return.

Martin was arrested on February 14 in a Gaza courtroom while testifying for a friend accused of “collaborating with Israel.”

Zahar said Martin had “recruited a large number of private drivers and translators to gather information and to work for him.

“He tried to contact leaders to ask them about technical things and he went to the tunnels to try to investigate and confirm that the Palestinian side was smuggling weapons,” he added, referring to the extensive network of smuggling tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border.

“He was trying to distort the image of the Palestinians and trying to prove that Hamas uses children as human shields, and he failed in this,” Zahar said.

Martin was released to British consular officials and taken to the consulate in Jerusalem, the British Foreign Office said in a statement.

“Our consular staff in Gaza have been in regular contact with

him throughout his detention. We have also been in regular contact with Mr Martin’s family in the

UK and we are sure they will be relieved to hear the news.”

Britain had expressed concern over Martin’s case, as had the Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association, which said he had been freelancing in the region for the past five years and was also a filmmaker.

The Hamas-run interior ministry had accused Martin of “violating Palestinian law and security in the Gaza Strip,” without providing further details.

Hamas, which swept the last Palestinian parliamentary elections held in January 2006, remains blacklisted by the European Union and the United States as a “terrorist organisation.”

It seized power in Gaza in June 2007 after a week of street battles in which it routed forces loyal to the Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.