New York, July 12, 2002—Palestinian free-lance photographer Imad Abu Zahra died this morning from gunshot wounds he sustained yesterday in the West Bank town of Jenin. Said Dahla, a photographer for the official Palestinian news agency WAFA who was accompanying Abu Zahra, was also wounded.
“We mourn the loss of our colleague Abu Zahra,” said CPJ executive director, Ann Cooper, noting that he was the second journalist to be killed while covering conflict in the West Bank this year.
According to sources in Jenin, residents had gone into the city center yesterday, July 11, after Israeli forces lifted a curfew that had been in effect since June 21. Dahla told CPJ that at around 2 p.m., the sound of Israeli tanks coming toward the area led residents to flee or take cover inside businesses or residences close by.
Wearing clothing identifying them as press, Dahla and Zahra went into the middle of a road to photograph an Israeli armored personnel carrier (APC) that had slammed into an electricity pole. Dahla said that he and Zahra were alone in the street at this point, facing two Israeli tanks (near the APC) that he estimated to be about 40 meters (44 yards) in front of them.
According to Dahla, moments after the two began taking photographs, a hail of gunfire erupted from one the tanks. Dahla said he was hit in the leg with shrapnel. Dahla said he then looked over at Zahra and saw that he had also been injured in his thigh and was bleeding profusely.
Dahla said that as they tried to take shelter in a nearby building, the tanks continued to fire upon them. Dahla told CPJ that the two journalists remained in the building entrance, unable to get to a hospital. He estimates that more than 25 minutes passed before Zahra was helped into a taxi and taken to Jenin Hospital, where he died this morning.
A spokesperson for the Israeli army in Tel Aviv told CPJ that the army had no comment regarding any casualties in Jenin yesterday. With regard to the shooting incident, the spokesperson said that after the APC had hit the electricity pole, a mob attacked the personnel carrier with Molotov cocktails and rocks, and people in the crowd fired on the tanks. According to the spokesperson, the soldiers in the tanks responded by firing back at the source of the gunfire.
However, sources in Jenin who were at the city center at the time told CPJ that residents did not attack the tanks until after the two journalists were shot and were being helped into a taxi to take them to the hospital. The sources also said that residents pelted the tanks only with pieces of fruit, and not with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
There were no other reports of people injured by gunfire in Jenin yesterday.
“There is obviously considerable confusion surrounding the circumstances of Zahra’s death,” said CPJ’s Cooper. “We urge Israeli authorities to conduct a thorough investigation into this incident immediately.”