By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Palestinians, led by their top Muslim cleric, appealed to Iraqi insurgents on Wednesday to release four Western peace activists, saying three of them had spent time in the West Bank aiding the Palestinians.
The four workers for the group Christian Peacemaking Teams – an American, a Briton and two Canadians – were shown in a video released Tuesday by insurgents in Iraq.
While in the West Bank, American Tom Fox and the two Canadians demonstrated against the construction of Israel’s security fence, helped Palestinian children to get through Israeli army checkpoints and pitched in with the olive harvest, Palestinians across the West Bank said Wednesday.
“We demand that these aid workers be released immediately,” said Mufti Ikrema Sabri, the Palestinians’ top Muslim clergyman. “We tell them that these aid workers have stood beside Palestinian people and it’s our duty now to stand beside them.”
Sabri said Islam opposes taking civilians hostage and said such kidnappings are “inhumane.”
Palestinians in several towns said they had worked with the three activists and asked Sabri to issue the appeal. Hundreds of international activists have aided the Palestinians in largely nonviolent demonstrations during the more than five years of fighting with Israel.
“They subjected themselves to grave dangers when they stood in front of Israeli bulldozers,” said the mayor of the West Bank village of Jayyus, Shawkat Samha. “We knew them as people who were against occupation and supported freedom for occupied peoples, like the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples.”
Samha said he had met Fox and recognized him in the video that was shown on the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera.
Fared Tomallah from the West Bank village of Salfit said he cried when he recognized captive Canadian Harmeet Sooden on television.
“I saw him many times suffering through tear gas with the Palestinians when demonstrating against the wall,” Tomallah said, referring to the separation barrier. “We appeal to Iraqi insurgents to release him and we assure them that these people have nothing to do with the occupation.”
The local branch of Christian Peacemaking Teams in the West Bank city of Hebron said that one of the captives, James Loney from Toronto, Canada, had helped Palestinian children get through Israeli army roadblocks in the divided city. Loney was slated to return to Hebron next week to continue his work, said Rich Meyer, an activist with the group.
“The kidnapping prevents him from coming here to work,” Meyer said.
The group’s Toronto branch released a picture of Fox sitting with children.