***UPDATE: Just announced on Fox News: Centanni and Wiig have been released.***
This is really weird:
GAZA (Reuters) - Two kidnapped Fox journalists appeared on a new videotape released by their captors on Sunday in the Gaza Strip, in which the reporters said they had converted to Islam, the Fox News Channel said.
Palestinian Interior Minister Saeed Seyam said efforts were under way to secure within hours the release of Fox correspondent Steve Centanni, a 60-year-old American, and New Zealand-born cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36.
Both journalists appeared to be in good health in the new video. They were seized on August 14.
They were shown separately sitting cross-legged, reading a statement which Fox said was an announcement that they had converted to Islam. At times in the video they were wearing long Muslim robes.
Wiig called on leaders of the West to stop "hiding behind the 'I don't negotiate with terrorists' myth". He then read some words in Arabic.
"The issue of the two kidnapped journalists is on the way to being resolved," Seyam told Reuters. "Efforts are under way with several parties to secure their release within the coming hours."
Is converting to Islam part of the deal for their release? I'm trying to find the video.
No video yet, but more information from YNetNews:
The two Fox News journalists kidnapped two weeks ago in Gaza have apparently converted to Islam according to reports in the Gaza Strip. In a new videotape released Sunday morning, the two accuse Israel of using Apache helicopters and American weapons in order to harm the Palestinians in Gaza. "It is Apache helicopters firing hellfire missiles made in America that kill the residents in Gaza," he said in a halting voice, his face expressionless.
At the same time, Spokesperson for the Palestinian Interior Ministry, Khaled Abu Hilal, reported that he expects the two kidnapped journalists to be released Sunday. According to him, the two journalists - the writer Steve Centanni and photographer Olaf Wiig - are supposed to be released "within hours."
Update: The video appeared to be the hurdle that Centanni and Wiig had to jump in order to be released. Amy Kellogg at Fox said it was a face saving measure on the part of the kidnappers. Since their demands had not been met, they claimed they got a gift from God in that the journalists converted to Islam.
Update II: From the AP:
It was not clear whether a deal had been struck with the kidnappers of the Fox journalists. The kidnappers initially demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. by midnight Saturday (5 p.m. EDT) in exchange for the journalists.
The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority had insisted it had no clue about the identity of the kidnappers.
However, in recent days, Hamas government officials signaled that the release of the journalists was imminent and that they had won assurances from the kidnappers that the hostages were being treated well.
On Sunday, before the journalists' release, a new video was released, showing Wiig and Centanni dressed in beige Arab-style robes. Wiig delivered an anti-Western speech, his face expressionless and his tone halting. The kidnappers claimed both men had converted to Islam.
Several hours later, the two men were dropped off at the Beach Hotel, wearing Western-style clothing. Wiig walked into the lobby behind Centanni, briefly turned when someone pulled him by the arm and shouted "get off" before heading upstairs.
"We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint," Centanni later told Fox. "Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on."
In the videotape released earlier on Sunday, Centanni and Wiig were shown separately sitting cross-legged, reading statements announcing that they had converted to Islam. At times in the video they were wearing long Arab robes
"I changed my name to Khaled. I have embraced Islam and say the word Allah," Centanni said.
John Moody, a Fox senior vice president, said he was not aware of any conditions agreed for the release of the reporters, although the video appeared to play a factor.
"I'm not sure about the reliability of what was said on that video," Moody said on the Fox Channel.
On the face of it, conversion to Islam would appear to provide a painless escape device for any hostage who happens to fall into fundamentalist terrorist hands. After all, once free, the hostage can always revert to his real faith or non-faith. It is hard to blame the two Fox News journalists, the American Steve Centanni, 60, and the New Zealander, Olaf Wiig, 36, for taking that path on to buy their way out of an uncertain fate at the hands of Palestinian terrorists - especially as they later reported they were forced to make the gesture at gunpoint.
And, indeed the two journalists were released from 13 days of captivity in Gaza three hours after announcing their conversion on a new videotape released by the kidnappers in Gaza.
Relief over the two journalists' coming safely out of their ordeal is quite apart from considerations of the consequences for the war on terrorism. It must be said that the Palestinian kidnappers also walked away without suffering any harm and can keep on snatching victims without fear - exactly as the same terrorist gang got away with murdering three Americans in Gaza in 2003. In fact, the prime minister Ismail Haniya, who belongs to an Islamist terror group, was allowed to take credit for the release after winning a face saver in the form of the conversions and an anti-American diatribe.
Update III: Ms. Underestimated has video of Centanni and Wiig's press conference.
Update IV: Here's the conversion video, courtesy of Allahpundit. Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig read statements in which they denounced American foreign policy and President Bush. Although the beginning of the video says that their conversion was not coerced, Centanni said after his release that they had to make these statements because they had guns pointed at their heads.
Update V: Michelle Malkin has a huge round up of a lot of great information.