Last Updated Wed, 30 Nov 2005 17:21:58 EST
A group of influential Sunni Muslim clerics in Iraq and Palestinian activists issued separate pleas Wednesday for the release of two Canadians and three other Westerners being held hostage in Iraq.
Palestinian activists called for the release of Harmeet Singh Sooden, above, and other captives, saying they helped Palestinians in the West Bank. (CP Photo/Christian Peacemaker Teams)
* INDEPTH: Iraq
The Association of Muslim Scholars, which is believed to have ties to some Sunni insurgent groups, said Wednesday that the captives should be released as a humanitarian gesture.
James Loney, a 41-year-old community worker from Toronto, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, a 32-year-old former Montrealer, were working for Christian Peacemaker Teams when they and two colleagues – Norman Kember, 74, of London, and an American, Tom Fox, 54, of Clearbrook, Va. – were abducted at gunpoint in Baghdad on Saturday.
A militant group calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade has accused the peace activists of being spies.
The group also claims to be holding German archeologist Susanne Osthoff, 43, who is married to an Iraqi.
The Association of Muslim Scholars urged the group to free the aid workers because of their "good efforts in helping those in need."
The clerics also said releasing Osthoff would show appreciation for Germany's "positive" opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Captives 'stood beside Palestinian people,' cleric says
A top Palestinian Muslim cleric also issued an appeal for the captives' freedom on Wednesday, saying three of them had spent time in the West Bank helping Palestinians.
"We demand that these aid workers be released immediately," Mufti Ikrema Sabri said in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
"We tell them that these aid workers have stood beside Palestinian people and it's our duty now to stand beside them."
He made the appeal after being approached by Palestinians in several towns who said they had worked with the two Canadians and Fox.
The Palestinian group International Solidarity Movement said in a news release issued Wednesday that the activists had protested against the construction of Israel's security wall, harvested olives and helped Palestinian children get through Israeli army checkpoints.
"They subjected themselves to grave dangers when they stood in front of Israeli bulldozers," Shawkat Samha, the mayor of the West Bank village of Jayyus, said in the release.
"We knew them as people who were against occupation and supported freedom for occupied peoples, like the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples."
James Loney, a 41-year-old community worker from Toronto, was on his third trip to Iraq when he was abducted. (CP Photo/Christian Peacemaker Teams)
Sooden, an electrical engineer who had been studying for a master's degree in literature in New Zealand, worked with the International Solidarity Movement for several months in 2004 and 2005.
After completing the two-week trip to Iraq with the Christian Peacemaker Teams, he planned to return to the West Bank and become a longterm activist for the International Solidarity Movement, the group said.
The group said Palestinians in Ramallah planned to hold a demonstration Thursday afternoon to show solidarity with all four activists from the Christian aid group and to appeal for their release.
The appeals came as Christian Peacemaker Teams blamed the abductions on the U.S.-led campaign in Iraq, which it opposes.
* FROM NOV. 30, 2005: Christian agency blames U.S. for kidnappings
Christian Peacemaker Teams is a volunteer organization based in Toronto and Chicago that sends teams to crisis zones around the world. In Iraq, the group has monitored elections, advocated for prisoners of the Abu Ghraib jail and helped with human rights activities.
Over the past two years, insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 225 people, including four Canadians. At least 38 hostages have been executed including one of the Canadians.
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