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Israel welcomes Johnston's release, demanding soldier be freed
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19:18, July 04, 2007

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 Peaceful ways to free BBC journalist run into deadlock: Hamas
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Israeli Prime Minister''''s office welcomed Wednesday the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston, who had been held in the Gaza Strip since March 12, and demanded kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit be freed unconditionally.

"The State of Israel congratulates BBC journalist Alan Johnston on his release by his kidnappers and shares in the joy of his family and that of the entire British people," said a statement issued by the office.

"Israel demands that soldier Gilad Shalit, who was abducted to the Gaza Strip over one year ago, also be released by his kidnappers, who belong to Hamas," said the statement.

Johnston, 45, was the only Western journalist to stay full time in restless Gaza at the time of his kidnapping.

Johnston was freed in the early hours of Wednesday following a deal between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Johnston''''s captor the Army of Islam, which demanded the release of some al- Qaida members in return for Johnston.

Earlier in the day, deposed Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haneya of Hamas expressed hope that the issue regarding Shalit would also end.

In a joint press conference with freed Johnston in Gaza, Haneya said his group hoped that the issue of Shalit would end as part of an honest deal that would secure the release of "our heroes" held in Israeli prisons.

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