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Gaza state of emergency imposed

Group frees French hostages

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A state of emergency has been declared in Gaza by the Palestinian National Security Council after a spate of kidnappings, a Palestinian security official told CNN.

Earlier, a group that briefly held four French nationals hostage Friday said the act was meant to draw European attention to the Palestinian situation.

"We want to bring European attention to the crisis of the Palestinian people and the demolition of Palestinian houses," said Abu Haroun, who said he is a member of the group Abu Al Reesh.

Haroun also listed the remarks of a U.N. official earlier this week as another reason for the kidnapping.

Two French men and two French women, as well as a Palestinian man who was with them, were taken at gunpoint earlier Friday from the Khan Yunis refugee camp, where they had been working on restoring electricity, Palestinian security sources said.

The five captives were taken to the Red Crescent building in Gaza City, where their captors appeared briefly in the lobby wearing ski masks and carrying what appeared to be automatic weapons.

Palestinian officials said the kidnappers promised that the group would be released after members of Abu Al Reesh released a statement listing the following demands:

-- An end to corruption within the Palestinian Authority,

-- A pledge to place the right people in the right positions,

-- The establishment of a fair judicial system, and

-- The provision of monthly payments to families of Palestinian prisoners held by Israelis, and the families of Palestinians killed by Israelis in the Intifada.

After the hostages were let go, a Palestinian security source said, the kidnappers were not arrested, and were promised that they could list their demands in a phone call to Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat.

Arafat did place a call to one of the French men who had been held soon after his release.

"Thank you very much Mr. President," the former hostage said to Arafat. "We are aware that this does not represent Palestinian people and we thank you for having... for calling us.

"Be sure that we are, as before, with the Palestinian people ... and we really all wish that you have a just peace and you have a state as soon as possible in a viable way," the man added.

Protest over speech

Haroun said the abduction of the French nationals was also in protest of the speech delivered Tuesday by U.N. Mideast special representative Terje Roed-Larsen which was highly critical of the Palestinian leadership.

In his speech at the United Nations, Larsen said the Palestinian Authority was in deep distress and near complete collapse, and blamed Arafat for not carrying out promised reforms.

Soon after the speech, a top aide to Arafat said Larsen was "unwanted" in Palestinian territory.

Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer for Palestine to the U.N., told reporters Wednesday that no action will be taken to prevent Larsen from entering Palestinian territory, but the issue will be taken up with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

After the abduction of the French nationals and that of a Palestinian police chief earlier in the day, two top Palestinian security officials announced they will resign, security sources said.

The sources said the head of preventive security in Gaza and the West Bank and the chief of intelligence in Gaza and the West Bank will soon step down.

Saturday in Ramallah, the Palestinian legislative council will hold a meeting to discuss the recent kidnappings.

The police chief, Ghazi Jabali, was abducted by Palestinian gunmen who released him after negotiations with Palestinian security officials and a member of Fatah.

A group calling itself the Jenin Brigades -- which has links to Fatah and an umbrella group of militants called the Popular Resistance Committee -- claimed responsibility.

A spokesman for the Jenin Brigades said they were assured that Jabali would be removed from his post within 72 hours, and that he would be investigated for suspected embezzlement and corruption.

Palestinian Authority officials would not comment on that statement.

Security officials said Jabali had been traveling in a convoy from Nusseirat refugee camp to Gaza City when he was stopped by gunmen. In the clash, one of his bodyguards was wounded.

-- CNN Producer Sausan Ghosheh and Senior U.N. Correspondent Richard Roth contributed to this report

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