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Palestinian authorities condemn murder of Italian activist

Hamas officials say they've found the body of an Italian pro-Palestinian activist kidnapped a few hours earlier in the Gaza Strip. A radical Islamist group claimed responsibility for the kidnapping.

Vittorio Arrigoni with three children

Vittorio Arrigoni was a pacifist and blogger in Gaza

Hamas officials have found the body of an Italian pro-Palestinian activist kidnapped a few hours earlier in the Gaza Strip.

The abducted man had earlier been named as Vittorio Arrigoni, 36, a peace activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, who was also working as a journalist and blogger.

Hamas police stormed an abandoned house belonging to a member of an extremist group early on Friday, and discovered the man's body. He had apparently been hanged. Two suspects have been arrested and police are looking for a third, according to Gaza Interior Ministry Spokesman Ihab al-Ghussein.

Condemnation in Palestine

Ghussein condemned the murder as a "heinous crime which has nothing to do with our values, our religion, our customs and traditions."

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh claimed Arrigoni’s murder does not indicate broader instability in the Gaza Strip.

"Gaza is safe and I want to assure all visitors to Gaza that they are safe and secure," Haniyeh said. "The crime that took place was an isolated incident…and we will enforce the law against the perpetrators."

Arrigoni with Palestinian flag

Arrigoni was a supporter of the Palestinian people

Meanwhile, Saeb Erekat – an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – condemned the killing as a "dark page in Palestinian history" and appealed for national reconciliation between the West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The two regions have been divided since Hamas drove out the Fatah faction in 2007.

Peace activists who worked with Arrigoni in Palestine were stunned by his murder.

"He’s very well-known, he lives among the people," said Huwaida Arraf, a co-founder of ISM. "I even thought that whoever has him is going to see his humanity and just let him go so when I heard what happened to him I was totally shocked."

Italy mourns

Maria Elena Delia, one of Arrigoni’s close friends, said that the activist’s loved ones were deeply grieving their loss.

"The people who were close to him, as I was, are devastated and consumed by pain," Delia told the news agency AFP.

Delia said rallies were planned in Milan, Turin, Rome and Genoa on Friday which will include a reading of the book Arrigoni wrote called "Gaza, Stay Human." The book is an eyewitness account of the Israeli 22-day offensive against Gaza between December of 2008 and January of 2009.

"We want to keep attention on the issues Vittorio defended, such as Palestinians' human rights. We will continue to spread his message," Delia said.

Earlier on Friday, the foreign ministry in Rome condemned "in the strongest manner the act of vile and senseless violence committed by extremists who are indifferent to the value of human life."

Threat to kill

On Thursday, an extremist Salafist group claimed it had taken the man hostage in order to secure the release of their leaders from prison. In a video posted on YouTube, the group gave rival Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza, until Friday afternoon to meet its demands.

The video showed a bearded, blindfolded man being grasped by the hair and made to face the camera.

Alan Johnston

BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza in 2007

The group described Arrigoni as a "journalist who came to our country for nothing but to corrupt people - from Italy, the state of infidelity, whose armies are still in the Muslim countries."

Salafist groups in Gaza espouse an austere form of Sunni Islam that seeks a return to practices that were common in the early days of the faith. Their religious observances and refusal to abide by various cease-fires have set them on a path of confrontation with Hamas.

Arrigoni is the first foreign national to be kidnapped in Gaza since BBC journalist Alan Johnston in 2007. He was released unharmed after 114 days in captivity.

Author: Spencer Kimball, Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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