Mount St. Catherine in south Sinai, Egypt.
Mount St. Catherine in south Sinai, Egypt. Photo by AP
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Photo courtesy of Hassan's family
Amir Hassan of Nazareth was abducted while traveling in Sinai. Photo by Photo courtesy of Hassan's family

Egyptian security forces are continuing to conduct negotiations with the kidnappers of two tourists in the Sinai Peninsula, Israeli Amir Hassan from Nazareth and his Norwegian girlfriend Ingvild Selvik Ask. The two, reports coming from Egypt say, were abducted on Thursday whilst making their way from the Taba border crossing to Nueiba.

According to the reports, the two are being held in a mountainous region of Sinai. They have made contact with their families, saying that they are in good condition and are being held as hostages in an attempt to pressure Egyptian authorities to release two relatives of the kidnappers who are in Egyptian custody in the city of Ismailiya and facing drug charges.

The chief of security in northern Sinai, General Mahmud al-Hafnawi, stated that negotiations with the kidnappers are in advanced stages and that Egyptian police have contacted Bedouin tribal leaders in the area in an attempt to get them to intervene and bring the affair to an end. A source familiar with the negotiations has said that the talks are difficult, as the kidnappers are insisting that their relatives be released. One of the kidnapers told an Egyptian news outlet that the local police had ignored repeated warnings that they had issued, which led them to carry out the kidnapping. He claimed that his relatives were not involved in any drug offenses, and that they were being framed.

According to information obtained by Egyptian police, masked men stopped Hassan and his girlfriend’s car and transferred them to a pickup truck which then sped down a dirt track heading into the mountains. The driver of their car, an Egyptian citizen who was later released, drove to Taba where he reported the incident to the police.

Hassan, 34, works and studies tourism in Eilat and only rarely returns to Nazareth. He contacted his family on Friday and reported that he was in good shape. This was also reported to the Foreign Ministry and the embassy in Cairo.

His extended family gathered in his home in eastern Nazareth, expressing concern for his fate. Many looked for ways to bring about his release. His brother, attorney Khaled Hassan, said that the whole family, and especially their parents, are very worried and are tensely waiting for good news. They all hope for a speedy return of Amir and his friend.

Relatives of Amir Hassan said Saturday evening that Egyptian authorities were negotiating with the kidnappers and have expressed cautious optimism that he and his Norwegian friend will be released by either Sunday or Monday. Hassan's family also said they spoke to Amir twice on Friday – once in the morning and once in the evening.

It should be noted that ever since the collapse of Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt, there have been numerous kidnappings in Sinai, mainly of tourists by local Bedouin that are intended to extract ransom money or release family members who are detained by Egyptian authorities. Some kidnappings are conducted as a means of pressuring authorities into releasing lands that have been held for commercial or governmental interests since during the Mubarak regime.

These incidents have critically damaged Egypt's tourism industry, which is the basis of people’s livelihood in the area. Hotel owners and operators of other tourist venues demanded that Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Egyptian army act to enhance the sense of security in Sinai in order to get tourists to return.