IDF: We didn't target Palestinian journalist killed in Gaza protest
MAHMUD HAMS (AFP)
The Israeli military has denied deliberately targeting a Palestinian journalist who died while covering a mass demonstration in Gaza on Friday in which eight others were killed.
Friday’s clashes were smaller than those of a week ago, when an estimated 40,000 Gazans converged on the fraught perimeter and 20 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, sparking calls for an investigation by the United Nations.
Photojournalist Yasser Murtaja, 30, died from his wounds late Friday night, Gaza’s health ministry said, after being shot by Israeli forces tasked with keeping some 20,000 demonstrators back from the enclave’s border with Israel.
Murtaja, who worked for the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, was with the vanguard of protesters, witnesses said, wearing a blue vest marked “press.”
His brother Motazem, also a journalist, said he was next to him when he was shot. "The target was very clearly journalists," he said.
The Palestinian Journalists' Syndicate said five other reporters were also shot and wounded by the Israeli army during Friday's protests, although they wore clothes clearly identifying them as journalists.
However the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it did not deliberately take aim at Murtaja or his colleagues.
"The IDF does not intentionally target journalists," the military told i24NEWS in a statement.
"The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF, and are being looked into."
It said that it warned Gaza residents not to approach the fence but that when necessary "the IDF uses means such as warnings, riot dispersal means, and as a last resort, firing live rounds in a precise, measured way."
The head of international press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) accused Israel of "deliberate shootings" of journalists.
"Palestinian photographer Yasser Mourtaja wore a vest marked "Press": he was obviously the victim of an intentional shot," Christopher Deloire wrote on Twitter. "RSF condemns with indignation the deliberate shootings of the Israeli army against journalists."
The Union of Journalists in Israel demanded clarifications on the reports of the Palestinian journalists being shot from the state's military chief.
"A democratic state's army should not harm journalists in the line of duty," the union said in a letter to Lieutenant General Gadi Eizenkot.
"We ask that you examine the claims that Israeli soldiers fired at journalists," the union said.
"We also would like to know if there are military directives regarding conduct in areas with a heavy media presence," the letter said.
The European Union said that the death and injury of journalists "raises serious questions about the proportionate use of force which must be addressed."
In total, Gaza’s health ministry said nine Palestinians were shot dead on Friday, including a 16-year-old boy, and that 491 Palestinians had been injured by Israeli bullets.
Organizers, who had called on participants to remain peaceful and steer clear of the heavily fortified perimeter, demand that Palestinians displaced by the creation of Israel in 1948 be allowed to return to their ancestral homes.
The IDF said that several attempts were made to penetrate the border barrier, although none were successful.
Murtaja's body was taken from the hospital to his home in Gaza City Saturday morning, with dozens of journalists following, many fighting back tears.
It was wrapped in a Palestinian flag, with a press flak jacket placed on his stomach.
Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, attended the funeral.
Haniyeh said journalists were attacked by Israel while trying to show a "true picture of a blockaded, downtrodden people".
Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade, while Egypt has all but sealed its border in recent years as well -- leaving the Strip's two million residents effectively locked in.
"My name is Yasser Murtaja, I am 30 years old, live in Gaza City and have never traveled," the journalist said in a March post on Facebook accompanying one of his drone photos from high above Gaza.
"Today I take a shot and I am up in the air, not on the ground."
Hind Khoudary, a friend and fellow journalist, said he was "a beautiful person both inside and out".
"His reputation with everyone was as someone very kind," she added, tears welling in her eyes.
In the West Bank political capital of Ramallah, around 50 Palestinian journalists held a vigil for Murtaja.
The Gaza health ministry on Saturday said a 20-year-old man, Hamza Abdel Aal, was also shot and killed by Israeli forces in central Gaza.
Some of the nine men were buried late Friday, while the rest were to be buried on Saturday.
Weeks of border protests have been called to demand the return of Palestinians to land they were forced from or fled after the founding of Israel 70 years ago.
They come with tensions high as the US gears up to shift its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem after recognizing the disputed city as the capital of the Jewish state.
Protesters on Friday said economic woes were also fueling frustration in Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for a decade.
"We are living like sardines," said father of seven Ahmad al-Naqaa.
"I am ready to die for our land and our dignity," the 40-year-old said as he joined the protests.
(Staff with AFP)
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