Palestinian journalist shot during Gaza protest dies of his wounds
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Palestinian journalist shot during Gaza protest dies of his wounds

IDF says unaware of incident in which Yasser Murtaja hit, but checking; other media personnel also hit during protests, despite wearing clothes identifying themselves as press

Demonstrators assist injured Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja during clashes with Israeli security forces, following a protest near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. Murtaja later died of his wounds. (AFP/Said Khatib)
Demonstrators assist injured Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja during clashes with Israeli security forces, following a protest near the border with Israel, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on April 6, 2018. Murtaja later died of his wounds. (AFP/Said Khatib)

A well-known Palestinian journalist died from a gunshot wound sustained while covering demonstrations near the Israeli border, the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said Saturday.

Yasser Murtaja was among two people to die overnight after being shot during Friday’s demonstrations. Their deaths raised Friday’s death toll to nine.

Murtaja was shot in the southern town of Khuzaa, which was engulfed in thick black smoke caused by burning tires set alight by demonstrators, Palestinian and news agency reports said. He was reportedly over 100 meters (yards) from the border, wearing a flak jacket marked “press” and holding his camera when he was shot.

Israel Radio reported he was flying a drone to take pictures when he was hit.

Murtaja worked for Ain media, a local TV production company.

The Israeli military has said it fired only at “instigators” involved in violence. It said it was unaware of the incident and was looking into it, Army Radio reported Saturday.

Witnesses described the area in which Murtaja was shot as a chaotic scene in which protesters torched large piles of tires, engulfing the area in black smoke that was meant to shield them from Israeli snipers. Footage showed that visibility was limited and the faces of some of the activists were covered in black soot.

Israeli troops on the other side of the fence responded with tear gas, rubber-coated steel pellets, and water cannons, as well as occasional live fire.

Murtaja was one of six Palestinian journalists who were shot and wounded during the clashes Friday, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said. Other reports cited by Army Radio said 10 journalists were injured.

The union said the six were shot despite wearing clothes clearly identifying themselves as journalists, adding it held Israel “fully accountable for this crime.”

An Israeli army spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the statement.

The Gaza Center for Media Freedom, which defends Palestinian journalists, called on the international community to intervene to protect its journalists.

Palestinian protesters burn tires during clashes with Israeli security forces on the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered along the Gaza border on Friday, burning tires and throwing firebombs and rocks at Israeli soldiers, who responded with tear gas and live fire, the army and witnesses said, as Palestinians held a second “March of Return” protest.

The IDF said it thwarted multiple efforts to breach the border fence — and that it used live fire to do so in some instances — as well as attempts to activate bombs against the troops under the cover of smoke.

Palestinians burned tires, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air; others threw Molotov cocktails and stones at Israeli soldiers over the border fence, who responded with tear gas and live fire, witnesses said.

Palestinian protesters use slingshots to throw stones towards Israeli security forces during clashes on the Gaza-Israel border in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said hundreds of people were wounded on Friday, including 293 by live fire. It said 25 of those wounded were in serious condition. Among those hurt were 12 women and 48 minors, the ministry added.

Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said Hamas organizers were trying to use protesters as a diversion to “open up the fence and then to insert terrorists into Israel.” Conricus said snipers were used “sparingly” and only against those that pose a “significant threat.”

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.

Israel accused Hamas of trying to carry out border attacks under the cover of the large protests and said it will prevent a breach of the fence at all costs.

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