Reporters Without Borders on Saturday accused the Israeli army of the “deliberate shooting” of journalists in Gaza after a week of bloodshed by the border.
Nine people were killed in the latest unrest, including Yasser Murtaja, a journalist with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency who died from his wounds after being shot, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said.
“Palestinian photographer Yasser Mourtaja was wearing a vest marked ‘Press’: he was obviously the victim of an intentional shot,” said Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), on Twitter.
“RSF condemns absolutely the deliberate shooting of journalists by the Israeli army.”
Murtaja reportedly died from a gunshot wound he sustained while filming Friday in an area engulfed in thick black smoke caused by protesters setting tires on fire.
An AFP picture taken after he was wounded showed Murtaja wearing a press vest as he received treatment. 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 Israeli army on Saturday denied deliberately targeting Murtaja, and said it was investigating the incident.
Hundreds, including Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, attended the funeral of the well-known Palestinian journalist.
Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least nine Palestinians and wounding 491 others in the second mass border protest in eight days, according to Palestinian figures. The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians reported killed by Israeli fire since last week. Israel does not provide figures.
Murtaja was over 100 meters from the border, wearing a flak jacket marked “press” and holding his camera when he was shot in an exposed area just below the armpit, news agency reports said.
In a statement released later Saturday, the IDF said it did not deliberately target journalists and it was investigating the incident.
“For weeks we have been warning against coming close to the fence and calling on Gaza’s residents not to obey the orders of the terror group Hamas and refrain from terror activities and other violent acts against Israel,” the IDF said. “Despite this, since last Friday the IDF has been dealing with tens of thousands of people approaching the fence, all instigated by Hamas.”
“In response IDF forces are acting under clear orders designed for these circumstances. The IDF does not deliberately target journalists. The circumstances in which the journalist was supposedly hit by IDF fire are not known and they are being investigated,” the army said.
The Union of Journalists in Israel on Saturday urged the IDF to investigate Murtaja’s death, saying it was “convinced that the IDF is party to the values of democracy, including the freedom of the press.
“Journalists — of any nation — are present in areas of confrontation to report on events. The army of a democratic country should not harm reporters who are doing their jobs. For this reason we view the fact that reporters were hurt gravely.”
Haniyeh, the head of Hamas, attended Murtaja’s funeral. He said journalists were attacked by Israel while trying to show a “true picture of a blockaded, downtrodden people.”
The Hamas chief said “the Zionist occupation has been unmasked to the world and to the international public for the crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people. The intentional murder of the Palestinian journalist conveys the truth to all.”
He stated that the media was on “the front lines” of the Palestinian struggle and vowed that “a thousand” others would take Murtaja’s place.
On Friday Israeli military assessments cited on Israeli television said it was believed that everyone who was hit by IDF gunfire had been engaged in violence.
“Hamas sent children out ahead [toward the fence], cynically using them,” the IDF’s spokesman, Ronen Manelis, said on Friday night. Manelis specified that eight explosive devices and numerous petrol bombs were thrown, 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,” he said, but the IDF had ensured the fence was not breached.
“The army did its job,” said Manelis. “The fence was not breached and [Israel’s] sovereignty was not harmed.”
Friday’s demonstration was the second of what Gaza’s ruling Hamas terror group said would be several weeks of “March of Return” protests which Hamas leaders say ultimately aim to see the removal of the border and the liberation of Palestine.
Gaza leaders have planned a series of so-called Marches of Return culminating in a planned million-strong march in mid-May, to coincide with Israel’s 70th Independence Day, the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day — when the Palestinians mark what they call the “catastrophe” that befell them with Israel’s creation.