Salama, a cameraman for the Hamas-run station, and fellow Al-Aqsa cameraman Mahmoud al-Kumi were killed when an Israeli missile hit their car in the Al-Shifaa neighborhood of central Gaza, the station and other news organizations reported. Al-Kumi and Salama had completed an assignment at Al-Shifaa Hospital as part of their coverage of Israeli airstrikes in the neighborhood, Mohammed Thouraya, head of Al-Aqsa TV, told The Associated Press. The journalists' car was marked "TV" with neon-colored letters, the station said. Al-Kumi and Salama suffered severe burns and died at Al-Shifaa Hospital, news reports said.
The deaths came during eight days of violence along the Israel-Gaza border that included Palestinian cross-border rocket strikes and Israeli bombardments of Gaza. Two days earlier, Israeli airstrikes targeted two buildings housing several local and international news organizations, injuring at least nine journalists and causing significant damage.
The Associated Press quoted Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, as saying the men were "Hamas operatives." A entry posted on the Israel Defense Forces blog asserted that an individual named Muhammed Shamalah, whom it referred to as a Hamas military commander, had been targeted in an airstrike that struck a vehicle identified as "TV."
Neither Leibovich nor the IDF blog entry provided any supporting details for the assertions. An IDF spokesman said he could not respond immediately to CPJ queries seeking further information about its claims. Samir Abu Mohsin, head of programming for Al-Aqsa, told CPJ that the IDF allegations were false, that the two cameramen performed no military functions, and that they were on assignment in a civilian area when they were killed.
The IDF did not respond to multiple written and phone requests from CPJ seeking substantiation for its accusations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also did not respond to a December 2 letter from CPJ that requested supporting evidence for the IDF's claims. Mark Regev, spokesman for the prime minister, told Agence-France Presse that Netanyahu would respond to CPJ through the Israeli Embassy in Washington. As of late December 2012, however, the embassy had not responded.
In a report issued on December 20, Human Rights Watch said it found no evidence to show that Salama and al-Kumi had been Hamas operatives or had engaged in any military activity. The group said the killings of the two cameramen and the attacks on the Gaza media centers were violations of the laws of war.