Alan Johnston,following his release yesterday didn't linger with his Hamas benefactors but went quickly to the safety of the British consulate in Jerusalem, Israel. He compared his 114 days as a hostage to being "buried alive."
Apparently Johnston was being held by the powerful Durmush clan,the heads of the so-called `Army of Islam'who made the original snatch. It wasn't authorized by Hamas or Fatah,but in the leadup to the Gaza turf war neither was prepared to do much about it and risk alienating the Durmush. As you remember, Hamas boss Ismail Haniyeh said that Johnston's kidnappers were only seeking `a little reward' while Fatah boss Mahmoud Abbas kept stalling for time by saying that Johnston was in good health and would be released soon.
They both knew exactly where Johnston was and who was holding him throught the entire period.
Now that the turf war in Gaza is over, Johnston was a liability to the Hamas government seeking renewed legitimacy and relations with the EU.
Accordingly, Hamas laid siege to the Durmush compound where Johnston was imprisoned, and to provide a little bargaining power, Hamas kidnapped two Durmush clan memebers, while the Durmush kidnapped nine Hamas operatives in revenge.
It all ended last night, when both sides exchanged their hostages and Johnston was freed.
Johnston’s freedom is a tremendous propaganda coup for the Hamas regime in Gaza and a step towards European recognition led by Britain. The new Brown government, already wilting under the impact of the recent Islamist attacks will likely lead the way towards the recognition and legitimization of the Hamas regime.
Apparently, this was in the cards even before Tony Blair stepped down as PM.
Reportedly, Blair promised Vladamir Putin to engage with the Hamas regime, which is how he got Russia's support for his appointment as the Middle East Quartet’s special envoy.
Johnston's relese could also pave the way for the freeing of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit. At the press conference with Johnston, Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh, said he hoped to be able to free Shalit in an “honorable deal for the release of our heroes.” And Egypt has promised to send a mediator to negotiate a prisoner swap.
This comes straight from Hamas kingpin Khalid Meshaal in Damascus, who now is claiming that Shalit is a liability since the Gaza takeover, and Hamas has apparently presented mediators from Europe with a reduced list of a few hundred Hamas shooters in Israeli jails as the price they want for Gilead Shalit...discounted down from over 2,000.
Hamas probably believes that continuing to hold Shalit is just one more impetus for the Israelis to possibly go in and clean the area out. And if he really is seriously ill, as the recent tape that was released suggests, Hamas might just be figuring that it's better to get a reduced price for him while he's still alive as opposed to getting nothing for a corpse.