Gaza City, Gaza Strip: An Associated Press (AP) photographer was freed unharmed Tuesday after a harrowing day in the hands of Palestinians who abducted him at gunpoint and dressed him in women's clothes to spirit him from one secret location to another.
Fatah officials brought Emilio Morenatti before midnight to the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
It was not clear who kidnapped him, though officials said that criminals took him. The government and main Palestinian groups denounced the abduction.
AT GUNPOINT: Morenatti freed after a harrowing day by Palestinians who abducted him on gunpoint.
Morenatti, a 37-year-old Spaniard, looked fatigued after his daylong ordeal but said he was unharmed.
"I'm tired but happy to have come back because there were very anguished moments," said Morenatti.
He said the kidnappers held him in a small room, where he was kept for about four hours during which masked men visited him.
Later he was put in a car dressed as a woman and taken to another location.
"They put a bag on my head and they dressed me up as a woman, as a woman in a long veil," the photographer added.
Morenatti said that he was blindfolded for much of the time, and that his captors spoke only Arabic, which he doesn't speak.
"I didn't know at any moment what they were doing," he said adding, "They moved me but nobody explained anything to me. It was very confusing."
The photographer said that he was held in complete darkness for hours. In the second house where he was held, Morenatti said he heard the sounds of a family.
He said that he was given one meal of cheese and lunch meat early in the day and a portion of fruit later.
Morenatti did not know his captors. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's office said in a statement that the identity of the kidnappers was known and they "would be pursued."
Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer, said, "The Associated Press is relieved that Emilio has been released, apparently unharmed.
The security of our journalists is always our top concern. We appreciate the assistance offered by so many people in obtaining his release, especially Palestinian and Spanish officials.
"It is crucial, however, that journalists such as Emilio be able to freely report the news in areas of conflict. We will be investigating what happened to assure that he and others can continue their important work," Curley said.
Morenatti's family in Spain rejoiced at news of his release.
"We were all sitting around together and when we heard the news we yelled with joy and then we opened a bottle of rioja (wine) to celebrate," Miguel Angel Morenatti, a brother of the photographer, told the AP.
"I managed to talk with Emilio for about 15 seconds and he told me that he was well both physically and mentally. The most important thing is that he is safe and free,"
Morenatti was seized as he headed out of his Gaza City apartment for an AP car, where Majed Hamdan, an AP driver and translator, was waiting.
Hamdan said that four gunmen grabbed his keys and cell phone and told him to turn away, pressing a gun to his head and threatening to harm him if he moved.
They took Morenatti, shoving him into a white Volkswagen Golf and driving off, Hamdan said.
Hours later, Morenatti was turned over to Fatah forces.
Abbas is not in Gaza, but his office is a safe Fatah stronghold in the territory, which is in the throes of a sometimes violent power struggle between Abbas' Fatah and the militant Islamic Hamas, which is in charge of the Palestinian government.
In the past two years, militants have frequently kidnapped foreigners as bargaining chips to get relatives released from Palestinian prisons, secure government jobs or settle personal scores.
In most cases, the kidnappings were brief and the hostages released unharmed.
However, recently, the kidnappers have changed tactics. Two Fox News journalists kidnapped in August were held for two weeks, much longer than previous cases.
The men also suffered physical and mental abuse in captivity.
An unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades claimed responsibility for the August abduction, and its demand for the release of Muslim prisoners held by the US raised fears that foreign extremists, perhaps al-Qaida, had infiltrated Gaza.
However, Palestinian security officials said the name was a front for local militants.
The media advocacy groups Reporters Without Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned Morenatti's kidnapping.
"We're dismayed that journalists have become pawns of Palestinian groups seeking to exploit them for political purposes," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.
"These blatant attacks on journalists will have a chilling effect on their ability to do their work and will ultimately deprive the world of information about this critically important story,” Simon added.
Morenatti, from Jerez, Spain, has been based in Jerusalem since April 2005, handling periodic assignments in Gaza and the West Bank. He has been in Gaza since Sunday.
Morenatti began working for the AP in April 2004, and spent a year in Afghanistan covering the conflict there.
He also covered the war in Lebanon and the World Cup soccer tournament in Germany.
In 1992, Morenatti began work as a photographer with EFE, the Spanish news agency, Spain.