IDF ‘did not target journalist’ killed in violent anti-Israel protest

“Anyone who operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand he’s putting himself in danger,” Israel’s defense minister stated regarding the death of a Palestinian photojournalist.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Hundreds attended the funeral of a Palestinian journalist in Gaza on Saturday who was killed while covering mass protests along the Israeli border the previous day.

Yasser Murtaja reportedly died from a gunshot wound he sustained while filming Friday in an area engulfed in thick black smoke from protesters setting tires on fire. 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. The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week. The border area appeared calm Saturday.

Witnesses said 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.

‘IDF does not intentionally target journalists’

The Israeli military has said it fired only at “instigators” involved in attacks on soldiers and was investigating Murtaja’s death amid a very hectic environment.

“The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) uses means such as warnings, riot dispersal means, and as a last resort firing live rounds in a precise, measured way,” it said Saturday. “The IDF does not intentionally target journalists. The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF and are being looked into.”

Murtaja, 30, was the co-founder of Ain media, a local TV production company that has done projects, including aerial drone video, for foreign media clients such as the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

Protesters torched tires, create limited visibility

Witnesses described the area in which Murtaja and others were 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 with 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.

Hamas, the Islamic terror group which has ruled Gaza since a 2007 takeover and calls for Israel’s destruction, has called for a series of protests until May 15, the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, which the Palestinians observe as Nakba Day, meaning Day of Catastrophe.

Hamas unwilling to disarm

Hamas says it hopes the mass protests can create pressure to break a border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt since 2007, without having to succumb to demands that it disarm.

Israel argues that Hamas could have ended the suffering of Gaza’s two million people by disarming and renouncing violence.

It says Hamas is exploiting the mass marches as a cover for attacking the border fence and has vowed to prevent a breach at all costs. The military said that on Friday protesters hurled several explosive devices and firebombs, using the thick plumes of smoke from burning tires as cover, and that several attempts to cross the fence were thwarted.

‘IDF showed determination, sound judgment’

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said the Passover holiday “was one of the quietest and safest we have known in recent years. Our preparation on the Gaza border proved itself.”

As for the death of Murtaja, he said, “I don’t know who is or isn’t a photographer. Anyone who operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand he’s putting himself in danger.”

“We’ve seen dozens of cases where Hamas terrorists used ambulances, dressed up as Red Crescent personnel and disguised themselves as journalists. We won’t take any chances,” Liberman stated.

Opposition leader Avi Gabbay also defended the IDF, which, he said, “showed determination, sound judgement and created deterrence in the face of Hamas’s provocations.”