New York, July 27, 2006–The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by the wounding of Palestine Television cameraman Ibrahim al-Atla by an Israeli tank shell while covering fighting in Gaza. Palestine Television head Mohammed al-Dahoudi alleged that the tank fired deliberately at al-Atla and other journalists with him.
Al-Atla was hit by shrapnel during a lull in shooting between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces in the densely-populated Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City yesterday. Al-Dahoudi told CPJ that al-Atla was wearing a vest clearly indicating that he was press. He accused Israeli forces of firing directly at the journalist.
Al-Atla was moving with a Reuters cameraman and a cameraman from the Cairo-based Ramattan News Agency to film civilians who had been caught in the fighting, when a shell landed nearby. Atla was rushed to Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital with shrapnel in his lungs and spine. He was transferred to a Tel Aviv hospital today for surgery. He remains in critical condition. No one else was wounded.
“The Israelis saw us clearly, we were journalists wearing vests and TV helmets,” said Ramattan cameraman Anas Rehan. “The tank undoubtedly targeted us,” he told CPJ.
He added that there were no Palestinian gunmen standing near the journalists.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman said the army would investigate the incident. “Israel doesn’t have a habit of hitting people not engaged in fighting,” he told CPJ. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t launch leaflets such as in southern Lebanon, to warn people of conflict areas.”
Palestine Television, along with the Palestinian News Agency (WAFA), Wafa Radio, and Voice of Palestine radio, which form the Palestinian Broadcast Cooperation, are under the control of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Around 50 Israeli tanks and bulldozers backed by missile-firing drone aircraft rolled into northern Gaza yesterday and engaged in intense combat, killing 24 Palestinians and wounding at least 70, according to international news agencies. Many civilians have been killed in a month-long offensive that started when Palestinian militants from Gaza crossed into Israel, killing two Israeli soldiers and capturing a third.
“We are extremely disturbed by the allegation that an Israeli tank fired directly at a group of journalists, severely wounding Ibrahim al-Atla,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the Israeli authorities to launch an immediate investigation into this incident, one of several recent allegations of deliberate targeting of journalists covering fighting in Gaza and south Lebanon.”