Archbishop Sentamu drums Alan Johnston to freedom in Gaza

By staff writers
4 Jul 2007

Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu joined Prime Minister Gordon Brown and millions of people across the world in celebrating the release of BBC journalist Alan Johnston from three and a half months of captivity in Gaza today.

And he did so in an unusual way, pounding an African drum with skill and enthusiasm to send the message of freedom out to his cathedral and beyond. “I just wanted to say ‘Alleluia!’… this is the best news we’ve had for a long time,” he declared.

Johnston had been kidnapped by a group calling itself the Army of Islam. But in spite of its name, the group’s tactics were disowned by vast numbers of Muslims who joined others in seeking the BBC man’s release.

In fact the faction is allied to a family criminal gang in the area, and the Hamas leaders of the Palestinian Authority were keen to stress in speeches today that such activity will not be tolerated.

Though everyone from the UN and world governments to civic groups, journalists and the British government worked tirelessly for Alan Johnson’s freedom, the Foreign Office has somewhat grudgingly admitted that Hamas has been the decisive factor.

Leaders of the party, ostracised by the British, the Americans and other Europeans, are determined to use the freeing of Johnson to strengthen their case for international recognition as the duly elected authority, and an end to the blockade of Palestine.

Israel has accused them of cynical manipulation. But NGOs and humanitarian agencies say that there can be no peace in the region without all representative political groups being involved in negotiations.

Meanwhile Mr Johnson himself celebrated his release by getting a haircut. He gave a number of interviews and briefings. In the coming weeks his insights into what is going on in Gaza are likely to be influential in drawing attention to what is going on there.

And he was quick today to stress the plight of others unjustly imprisoned, the majority non-Westerners, whose plight is often of little interest to the Western-dominated media.

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