BBC correspondent kidnapped in Gaza

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LONDON -- Fears are mounting for the safety of BBC Gaza correspondent Alan Johnston after the pubcaster confirmed it has been unable to contact him amid Palestinian reports that he has been kidnapped.

The pubcaster issued a statement saying that it was "concerned" for Johnston's whereabouts after failing to contact him.

"We are currently unable to contact him and are concerned for his safety," the BBC said in a statement. "We are trying to gather as much information as possible."

Palestinian Interior minister Sayeed Sayyam said that Johnston's disappearance was "a criminal act," according to wire reports.

In an interview with BBC News, Johnston, the BBC's Gaza reporter for three years, was described as "a highly experienced and respected reporter," by BBC diplomatic correspondent Paul Adams.

Rushdi Abualouf, a senior BBC producer in Gaza, said no other staff were with Johnston when he was driving home from the BBC office in the coastal strip.

"We lost contact with him and we have a reason to believe he was kidnapped," Abualouf told Reuters.

"We have no information about the conditions of his captivity and we received no claim of responsibility by any group and we do not know the motives."

Johnston is believed to be the only Western journalist still based full time in the Gaza Strip. Most other journalists moved out of the impoverished territory last year as fighting between rival Hamas and Fatah factions intensified.

"(We) are concerned for his safety," the BBC said earlier in a statement.

"We're trying to gather as much information as possible. Alan is a highly experienced and respected reporter," the statement added.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said: "We are aware of (the) reports and are urgently looking into it."

Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyam of Hamas described the kidnapping as a "criminal act."

"The security services will ... pursue the criminals and bring them to justice," he told reporters.

Security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah declared a state of emergency and set up checkpoints in the streets to search for Johnston.

"(The kidnapping) is harmful to our national cause and to the civilized face of our people," Fatah said in a statement.

There have been a series of abductions of foreign journalists and aid workers in Gaza in the past year.

All have been released unharmed.

The last foreign journalist to be kidnapped was a Peruvian photographer working for the French news agency Agence France-Presse in early January.

The AFP photographer was released unharmed after nearly one week in captivity.

Last month three American women were abducted in the occupied West Bank and freed about an hour later.

Militants have abducted foreigners usually to try to put pressure on the Palestinian government to give them jobs or to press for the release of detained colleagues, including those inside prisons in Israel.

Additional reporting by Reuters.
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