"We have just received this information", Luigi Hippolito, an editor at the daily newspaper, said.

"We are waiting for the definitive confirmation from Lorenzo. He hasn't called us yet."

The newspaper's website quoted deputy Palestinian Prime Minister Nabil Shaath as confirming Lorenzo Cremonesi's release.

Cremonesi was abducted on the outskirts of the central town of Deir al-Balah in the latest of a series of kidnappings in the
territory. 

He had earlier told his editors in Milan by phone that he was being held by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

Al-Aqsa interview

His translator said they were stopped just shortly after interviewing the local leader of the brigades.

"We were in our car after a meeting with the head of al-Aqsa in Deir al-Balah," Ayman Najam said.

"Then a vehicle with five armed men wearing black masks stopped us near the technical college. They raised their guns in the air.

"They pushed me away and took the journalist and sped away in the car," he added.

Drawing attention

Corriere della Sera explained the motive for the kidnapping on its website: "In his phone call, Lorenzo Cremonesi explained that the kidnapping was done as a demonstrative act, aiming to draw attention to the fight against a Palestinian Authority chief that the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades accuse of being corrupt."

"We were in our car after a meeting with the head of al-Aqsa in Deir al-Balah. Then a vehicle with five armed men wearing black masks stopped us near the technical college. They raised their guns in the air. They pushed me away and took the journalist and sped away in the car"

Ayman Najam,
translator for Lorenzo Cremonesi

A large number of foreign journalists have descended on Gaza in the build-up to the impending handover to the Palestinian Authority of 21 former Israeli settlements. 

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has made tackling lawlessness one of his top priorities but has not managed to bring to heel armed factions, who often operate above the law.

Abbas issued specific orders a month ago to the security services to ensure the safety and protection of all foreigners in the Palestinian territories. 

"Any aggression against our foreign guests represents a challenge to the rule of law and we will not permit it," Abbas said.

The United Nations recently withdrew all its non-essential foreign staff after a number of its employees had been abducted, although all were subsequently released unharmed.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Saturday's abduction.

Earlier in the day, at least 60 armed Palestinians seized two Palestinian government buildings in the town, demanding jobs with the Palestinian Authority, witnesses said.

In recent months, Palestinian armed men have abducted several foreigners for use as bargaining chips in local feuds. All hostages have been released unharmed after a few hours.