The High Price of the Fox Kidnapping Release

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Two Fox News journalists were freed on Sunday in Gaza after a complex deal was hammered out between the kidnappers and the Hamas-led government of Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh. The negotiations brought an end to the two-week-long hostage ordeal, but it may complicate efforts to free another captive — Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit — held by Palestinian militants.

In its broadcasts, Fox News often portayed the Hamas militants as terrorists, but the kidnapping of the two journalists, sources tell TIME, had nothing to do with Fox's perceived pro-Israel stance or a serious attempt, as the captors first demanded, of swapping the pair for Muslim prisoners in the U.S. Instead, the two newsmen were more likely the victims of a vicious feud between various Palestinian militias.

Palestinian security sources close to the negotiators told TIME that the two Fox Newsmen — reporter Steve Centanni, 60, from Washington, D.C., and New Zealand cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36 — were kidnapped from Gaza to embarrass Haniyeh's government. The militants, who earlier identified themselves as members of the previously unknown Holy Jihad Brigades, were enraged with fellow Hamas militants because they too had joined in the daring capture on June 25th of Corp. Shalit, in which Palestinian gunmen tunneled under a wall and attacked an Israeli army post. But according to these security sources, the militant groups fell out after Hamas' military wing took control of Shalit and elbowed the other co-conspirators aside.

In revenge, these militants, who belong to a splinter group of the late Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, struck back by seizing the two journalists, these sources said.

Haniyeh was able to secure the journalists' freedom, but at a high price: he has agreed to give these armed extremists a role in deciding the fate of the Israeli soldier, these sources said. The kidnappers are more extreme in their approach to Israel (Prime Minister Haniyeh is a moderate within Hamas), and they will undoubtedly raise the ante for the release of the 18-year-old corporal, who is said to be in good shape even though his captors have so far refused to offer any proof he is still alive. So far, various mediators, including the Egyptians and the French, have tried to strike a bargain for Shalit's freedom, suggesting that the soldier be swapped for dozens or perhaps hundreds of Palestinians inside Israeli jails. Harder demands are now expected from the militant kidnappers.

The two journalists, freed early on Sunday, claimed their captors had treated them well but forced them to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

Elsewhere in Gaza, two Reuters television journalists were wounded on Sunday when an Israeli missile struck their armored car. The reporters' car was clearly marked "TV" and the crew were filming the destruction of an Israeli air raid when the missile struck. The Israeli military said the journalists' vehicle was acting suspiciously, a claim that the Foreign Press Association in Tel Aviv dismissed as "outrageous."

—with reporting by Jamil Hamad/ Ramallah