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Freed BBC reporter says his release is like a dream
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16:19, July 04, 2007

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Alan Johnston, the BBC reporter who was freed early on Wednesday after being held hostage for months in the Gaza said his release was like a dream that was difficult to come true.

Johnston made the remarks in his first statement to reporters following his release, which he described as "a great opportunity which came like a dream that I had no idea it would become true one day."

The BBC reporter, held in Gaza since March 12, was handed over before dawn on Wednesday by his captors from the Army of Islam to Hamas officials, a Palestinian source said.

"He was freed following an agreement with his kidnappers and he is in good health," Hamas said in a statement.

The source added that Johnston was then conveyed by a car to the home of sacked Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haneya of Hamas in Beach refugee camp in Gaza City, where Haneya received him with hugs and welcomed him into his house.

Johnston, who lost weigh, said, "It is fantastic to see freedom after 16 weeks living in a narrow and dark cell. Sometimes it was frightening and I didn't know when my ordeal will be over."

He expressed gratitude to the Palestinians "who fought for my freedom in both Gaza and Ramallah," adding that he especially thanked Haneya and Hamas that helped to get him released.

Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip three weeks ago, after storming all security headquarters including President Mahmoud Abbas compound, prompting Abbas to sack the national unity government and sworn in an emergency replacement led by Salam Fayyad.

Asked about his living conditions when he was imprisoned, Johnston said, "They gave me some food ... I was in a good health during those weeks."

Johnston said he is planning to go for a long journey "then I will think about coming back to the Gaza Strip" which he has considered as his home for three years.

Johnston was the only Western journalist to stay full time in restless Gaza at the time of his kidnapping.

Meanwhile, Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Meshaal, who is based in the Syrian capital of Damascus, said Johnston's release showed that his group was bringing order to the Gaza Strip since it seized control of the area.

The radical group calling itself the Army of Islam claimed responsibility for kidnapping Johnston on March 12 and demanded that Britain free al-Qaida leaders in exchange of the release of the reporter.

Hamas had demanded Johnston's freedom since it seized control of Gaza last month.

Earlier on Tuesday evening, the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) mediated between Hamas movement and the Army of Islam to exchange prisoners during negotiations to free Johnston.

Source: Xinhua

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