GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip – A new videotape of two FOX journalists being held hostage in the Mideast was released Sunday, and a Hamas official said he hoped they would be released later in the day.
The government has received assurances that the hostages taken Aug. 14, cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand and correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, of the U.S., are unharmed, said Interior Ministry spokesman Khaled Abu Hilal.
"We hope their release will be within hours," Abu Hilal told The Associated Press.
The kidnappers, meanwhile, released new video of Wiig and Centanni, in which the journalists looked tired.
In one segment of the footage, Wiig is seen sitting cross-legged on the floor, dressed in a beige robe and reading from crumpled notes.
Both announced in the tape that they have converted to Islam. And they both denouce U.S. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
The journalists were seized in Gaza City. Their captors, a previously unknown group calling itself the Holy Jihad Brigades, demanded the release of all Muslims imprisoned by the U.S. in exchange for freeing the journalists.
It was not clear whether the kidnappers were local militants, either with ties to Hamas or the rival Fatah movement, or sneaked into Gaza from outside. However, some Palestinian security officials said Sunday there were growing suspicions that the kidnappers were locals.
In the past two years, Palestinian militants have seized more than two dozen foreigners, usually to settle personal scores, but released them unharmed within hours. The holding of the FOX journalists was the longest so far.
Wiig's wife, Anita McNaught, traveled to Gaza soon after the kidnapping to appeal for the men's safe release. Centanni's brother, Ken, has made a similar plea.
On Friday, civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson also called for the two men to be freed.
"They are in a crisis they did not create. They should not be kept as trophies and we appeal for their release," Jackson told New Zealand television network TV3.
Jackson was to lead an ecumenical delegation to the Middle East this weekend to meet with political and religious leaders about the kidnapping and other developments in the region, including the capture of three Israeli soldiers by Islamic militants.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.