U.S. women kidnapped, released

NABLUS, West Bank - Three U.S. women were briefly kidnapped Tuesday in the West Bank city of Nablus and were released later in the evening, Palestinian security officials said.

The security officials said the three women were last seen taking pictures on the outskirts of the Balata refugee camp near Nablus before they were kidnapped. They were held briefly before being released, security officials said.

There was no claim of responsibility that appeared to be authentic. At one point, a man calling himself Hadi Saud contacted The Associated Press in Nablus and said he was the kidnapper. He demanded to be given a job in the Palestinian security forces and medication for a shooting injury sustained last year, in exchange for releasing the hostages. He provided no proof that he was holding the women.

The women arrived unharmed at the office of the governor of Nablus. Two identified themselves as Janet Miller, 26, and Gillian Rose, 26. The third would give only her first name and age - Susan, 27. They would not say where they lived in the United States, but Palestinian colleagues said they came from the Washington, D.C. area.

They said they worked with the Palestine Hydrology Group, based in Ramallah, an organization that works to solve water problems in the West Bank and Gaza.

After meeting the governor, the three left by car for their homes in Ramallah.

Micaela Schweitzer-Bluhm, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, said U.S. officials were informed of the kidnappings. "We take them extremely seriously," Schweitzer-Bluhm said of the incident.

In the past, scores of foreigners were kidnapped by various Palestinian militant groups, but usually released unharmed after a few hours.