A Palestinian photo-journalist has died after being shot by Israeli soldiers while covering a mass demonstration in the southern Gaza Strip on Friday, despite wearing a flak jacket clearly marked “press”.
The death of Yaser Murtaja – a co-founder of the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, which produced work for Al Jazeera, the BBC, and Vice – has sparked international condemnation of the Israeli Defence Force.
Murtaja was one of nine people killed by Israeli troops in the violence on Friday, according to reports. He is thought to have been deliberately targeted by a sniper, but the IDF has said this was not the case.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has said seven other reporters were injured on Friday as tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered at the boundary with Gaza for the Great Return March protests.
In a statement, the IDF said it uses “warnings, riot dispersal means, and as a last resort firing live rounds in a precise, measured way” to quell unrest.
“The IDF does not intentionally target journalists, it said. “The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF, and are being looked into.”
The Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) called for the formation of an international independent inquiry to investigate crimes against journalists by Israeli forces.
The idea has been supported by the National Union of Journalists and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres).
Hussam Hashem Salem, one of Murtaja’s colleagues, told MADA he saw him standing about 350 metres from the border fence to cover the scene as demonstrators set fire to tyres.
Murtaja was shot in the abdomen and was taken to hospital where he laster died of his wounds.
For his funeral, held on Saturday and attended by hundreds of people, he was draped in a Palestinian flag with his press jacket placed on top of him as he was carried through the streets of Gaza.
The NUJ urged the British and Irish Governments to protest the actions of Israeli forces.
NUJ General Secretary Michelle Stanistreet said: “This is outrageous behaviour which must be condemned in the strongest possible terms.
“Murtaja and his colleagues were clearly identified as working journalists. There is an urgent need for an independent investigation into this incident.
“In extending sympathy to his family, to his colleagues and to our sister union in Palestine we strongly urge the British and Irish governments to formally protest at the actions of Israeli forces on Friday.
“The decision to fire on demonstrators in this fashion raises very serious issues. Our thoughts are with the families of all who have been killed.
“Reporters and photographers must be allowed to record public demonstrations and their presence at events is vital.
“The killing of Yaser, a talented, committed young photographer with a promising career, is an attack on the fundamental rights of journalists to do their work in the public interest.”
International press campaign group RSF condemned the “disproportionate use of force by Israeli troops” and called for an independent investigation into what they called a “crime against press freedom”.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “We condemn the disproportionate reaction by Israeli forces, who killed or wounded several civilians including journalists.
“We urge the Israeli government to adhere strictly to UN Security Council Resolution 2222 on protecting journalists, adopted in 2015, and we call for an independent investigation leading to the conviction of those responsible for this crime against press freedom.”
The UN resolution condemns all abuses and violations committed against journalists, including killings, kidnappings and hostage taking, and urges governments to ensure accountability for crimes against media workers.