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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fatah Gunmen Threaten EU Citizens

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Armed militants angered by a cartoon drawing of the Prophet Mohammed in several European newspapers surrounded the office of the EU Commission in Gaza and searched hotels for foreigners to kidnap in the West Bank, as outrage over the caricatures spread across the Islamic world on Thursday.

Foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers began leaving Gaza as gunmen there threatened to kidnap citizens of France, Norway, Denmark and Germany unless the four governments apologize for the newspaper cartoon. Only several dozen foreigners were believed to be in Gaza. Many others had left in recent months, during a spate of abductions of foreign nationals.

In the West Bank city of Nablus, gunmen entered four hotels to search for foreigners to abduct, and warned hotel owners not to host citizens from several European countries. Gunmen said they also searched two apartments, but found no Europeans. The gunmen said foreigners had three days to leave Nablus on their own.

In Gaza, gunmen said they would shut down media offices from France, Norway, Denmark and Germany, singling out the French news agency Agence France Presse.

"Any citizens of these countries who are present in Gaza will put themselves in danger," a gunman linked to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah Party said Thursday, as he stood outside the EU Commission's office in Gaza. He was flanked by two masked men holding up their rifles.

If the European governments do not apologize by Thursday evening, "any visitor of these countries will be targeted," he said.

Foreign journalists were pulling out of Gaza on Thursday, and foreign media organizations were canceling plans to send more people in.

Norway suspended operations Thursday at its representative office in the West Bank town of Ram, just outside of Jerusalem, after receiving threats connected to a Norwegian newspaper's publication of the cartoons.

The Danish Foreign Ministry in Copenhagen said all Danes, except for two diplomats, have left the West Bank and Gaza. "They left several days ago," said Lars Thuesen, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. "We are urging all Danes not to travel there."

The head of Denmark's representative office in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Rolf Holmboe, said the office would be closed Friday due to the threats. Holmboe said shots had been fired at the Ramallah office on Monday, at a time when the building was empty, and that no one was hurt.

Danish and French members of the international observer team at the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt did not report to work on Thursday, said Julio de La Guardia, spokesman for the group.

At the Qasr Hotel in Nablus, manager Awad Hamdan said gunmen came in and demanded to know if any Germans, French, Danish or Norwegians were staying there. Hamdan said he told the gunmen there were no guests from those countries.

Palestinian security officials said they would try to protect foreigners. However, police have largely been unable to do so in the past, with 19 foreigners kidnapped and released unharmed in recent months, mostly by Fatah gunmen.

Thursday's events began when a dozen gunmen with ties to Fatah approached the office of the EU Commission in Gaza. Three jumped on the outer wall and the rest took up positions at the entrance.