A Palestinian reporter killed last week by Israeli fire was detained and beaten by Hamas security forces in 2015, a global journalist body said Wednesday, after Israel accused him of being a member of the Islamist terror group.
Yasser Murtaja was shot dead during clashes on the Gaza border Friday while, witnesses said and video from the scene showed, wearing a press vest, leading to criticism of Israel’s open-fire policy.
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Tuesday accused the journalist of being an active member of Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, with which the Jewish state has fought three wars in a decade.
Liberman claimed the 30-year-old had received a salary since 2011 and held a rank similar to captain in Hamas’s armed wing, but provided no evidence for the claims.
A case file from the International Federation of Journalists documented how Murtaja was detained and beaten by Hamas security forces in 2015 while filming.
The file, seen by AFP, said Murtaja and three other colleagues were filming the demolition of a home near the Israeli border when a man demanded to see their documents.
After they refused, a jeep belonging to the Hamas security forces arrived and “pulled the photographer Yasser Murtaja into their jeep without explaining what was going on.”
It said inside the van he was beaten by Hamas police, leading to his eventual hospitalization. After an interrogation, his photographs were eventually seized.
Murtaja and the other journalists were interviewed by an IFJ researcher at the time, the file said.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger accused Liberman of a cover-up.
“It is clear that having murdered a journalist the Israeli defense minister is more interested in spouting propaganda and engaging in a cover-up than in carrying out a thorough and transparent investigation and bringing Yasser’s killers to justice,” he said in a statement.
Israeli forces have killed 31 Palestinians since March 30, according to Gazan health ministry figures, in mass protests that the Palestinians dub the “March of the Return.”
Israel says it opens fire when necessary to stop damage to the border fence, infiltrations and attempted attacks. It alleges that Hamas, whose leaders have said the demonstrations are ultimately aimed at erasing the border and liberating Palestine, is seeking to use the protests as cover to carry out violence.
Last Friday, during the second week of a series of events set to culminate on May 15, about 20,000 Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border in what Israel has described as a riot orchestrated by Hamas, and what Palestinians say was supposed to be a peaceful protest.
Israel’s army spokesman Ronen Manelis specified that evening that eight explosive devices and numerous petrol bombs were thrown during the day, and that the IDF faced several attempts “to cut through the fence…. There were attempts to carry out acts of terrorism … using the smoke [from burning tires] for cover,” Manelis said.