After an eight-hour kidnap ordeal, Hendrik Taatgen, who is Dutch, and Brian Ambrosio, an Australian, were swept into the Palestinian presidential compound on Wednesday afternoon to be met by reporters and schoolchildren.
The two men, the principal and vice-principal of a private international school, were the victims of the latest in a string of kidnappings to sweep Gaza.
Taatgen told Aljazeera.net that he was not hurt, but quite "shaken" by the experience.
In a videotaped statement, gunmen claiming to belong to an armed wing of the Palestinian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) said they carried out the kidnapping.
The group said the incident was intended to pressure the Palestinian Authority (PA) to release its leaders, who are in jail in Jericho for killing an Israeli cabinet minister in 2001.
"The chaos and security breakdown has entered our houses. We have to stop it. These were people who left their countries to come to the danger of Gaza and teach our children"
Shireen Bississo, parent
But Rabah Muhanna, a political leader in the PFLP, denied that his party was involved in the kidnapping, saying the gunmen were young men masquerading as PFLP who wanted a piece of the PA pay-off pie.
"We absolutely condemn the kidnappings," Muhanna told Aljazeera.net. "The PFLP and its military wings, the Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, had nothing to do with this crime. We assured Abu Mazen of this from the very start in talks we had this morning. We let him know that we are against such tactics."
He said the latest kidnapping was "the work of uncivil young men who formed their own brigade and linked it to the PFLP".
The growing incidence of kidnappings, Muhanna said, was the result of the PA's own actions. "They have been acquiescing to kidnappers' demands in the past and encouraging others to continue the practice," he said.
Gaza has been wracked by lawlessness and a total security breakdown in recent months marked by a spate of kidnappings, bombings, as well as shootings targeting PA officials, foreigners, and members of the judiciary.
Teacher Hendrik Taatgen was
held by gunmen for eight hours
The kidnappers' demands have been growing and although the incidents are usually resolved peacefully, they are seen as a challenge to Mahmoud Abbas's shaky authority and his party's standing in forthcoming parliamentary elections.
Gunmen involved in the incidents are often disgruntled members of Abbas's own Fatah party, one of its armed wings, or renegade members of other small armed factions who want promotions, jobs, or pay-offs.
Critics have pointed fingers at the PA for not doing enough to maintain order and prevent the attacks, and human rights groups have flatly condemned them.
Shireen Bississo, a parent of three children who attend the international school, said: "The chaos and security breakdown has entered our houses. We have to stop it. These were people who left their countries to come to the danger of Gaza and teach our children.
Wael Abdelshafi, 15, a pupil at the school, said: "Our feeling is that the kidnappings can be stopped, but they aren't, they keep happening. We never expected that our principal would be the next victim.
He stood with a group of his peers in front of the presidential compound, protesting against the incident and welcoming back the teachers.
Tawfiq Abu Khosa, spokesman for the Palestinian Interior Ministry, told Aljazeera.net that the situation is not so easily prevented, likening it to a cycle that is beyond their control.
"If I personally stood on the door of every house in Gaza, if I gave each citizen a private policeman, and if I gave every policeman a private policeman, there will still be a problem with the security situation," Abo Khosa said.
"The PA is rewarding criminal behaviour"
Eyad Sarraj, psychiatrist
"It's a social contract between the ruler and the ruled: there are duties, and there are responsibilities based on this contract."
The problem, he said, "is that the factions kidnap people and break the law and some PA officials also break the law". "So these people benefit from the continuation of this chaos," Abu Khosa said.
Rewarding criminal behaviour
But Palestinian activists such as Eyad Sarraj, a renowned psychiatrist and member of the school board, said that instead of deterring future attacks, the PA has been rewarding the kidnappers by acceding to their demands and agreeing to "under-the-table" arrangements with them.
"The man who kidnapped Gaza's former chief of police in the first incident of this kind was actually promoted," he said. "After that, people who were convicted of murder were released against any application of justice.
"Gunmen who blackmailed security officials were actually given jobs within the security force. The PA is rewarding criminal behaviour." The situation, he said, had become "intolerable".