Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi on Sunday barred negotiations with the kidnappers of three policemen and four soldiers who appeared to plead for their release in an online video, Al Arabiya reports.
The abductions on Thursday in the Sinai Peninsula prompted angry police to protest and shut down border crossings with Gaza and Israel, piling the pressure on Morsi to help free their colleagues.
The president, however, was quoted as saying by the MENA news agency that “There are no negotiations with criminals and the awe of the state will be preserved.”
Al Arabiya reported that a video posted on Sunday by an anonymous account on YouTube appeared to show the seven hostages, blindfolded and with their hands on their heads, identifying themselves.
It was later removed from YouTube only hours after it was broadcast by the media.
One of the hostages was prodded by what appears to be a rifle held by an abductor off screen before another hostage says the kidnappers want the release of detained Bedouin “political activists”.
“We hope that you, president, quickly release the political activists from Sinai as soon as possible because we can no longer stand the torture,” said one hostage, according to Al Arabiya.
The policemen, who worked at border crossings, and soldiers were kidnapped at gunpoint while travelling to their homes.
A spate of hostage-taking has rocked the Sinai, which borders Israel as well as Gaza, but they usually last for no longer than 48 hours and are often carried out by Bedouin seeking the release of jailed relatives.
Such abductions have been on the rise since the 2011 uprising that toppled veteran president Hosni Mubarak.
Presidential sources told the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat that the Egyptian army has urged Morsi to give them the “green light” to launch an attack operation against the kidnappers.
The president originally sought negotiations with the kidnappers to “avoid any bloodshed and further complicate the situation in Sinai,” the sources told Asharq al-Awsat.
In March, Bedouin kidnapped an Israeli and a Norwegian tourist in the south of the peninsula, which is dotted with beach resorts, to press for the release of jailed relatives.
The tourists were held for five days and released unharmed.
In April, armed Bedouin tribesmen freed a Hungarian peacekeeper after briefly detaining him to press for the release of a jailed relative.
Bedouin tribes in the Sinai blamed the interior ministry and its attitude towards locals for the kidnappings, and have implied that the Bedouin were better off living under Israeli rule and that they have been suffering since Israel withdrew from the region as part of the peace agreement with Egypt.