Journalists under fire on West Bank

A leading spokesman for the Israeli Government refused to condemn the firing of stun grenades at a team of foreign journalists trying to report on last week’s meeting in Ramallah between US envoy Anthony Zinni and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Daniel Seaman, chief press officer for the Israeli Government, said on CNN’s International Correspondent programme at the weekend that foreign journalists were "pushing it" by trying to get into the compound with Zinni.

"And if they keep pushing, the military is going to stop them," he said. "If they have to use stun grenades, they will use stun grenades. And if they have to fire rubber bullets, they’ll fire rubber bullets."

One of the journalists who came under fire was Ismail Khader, a Reuters cameraman who was filming close to the compound when Israeli troops began firing stun grenades.

"They threw one right at me actually," said Khader. "I saw it pass through my legs – the sound was too loud. I was scared."

Khader said also that a curfew was now in operation under which journalists were forced to remain in their hotels – only being allowed out for two to three hours every few days.

Reuters’ office in Ramallah was closed down by Israeli soldiers soon after they entered the town. "It is very difficult to work here at the moment," said Khader.

But Seaman rejected claims made on the programme by Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, that "in the name of its own military action" the Israeli Government was "indulging in a media cover-up".

The Israelis are threatening legal action against CNN and NBC for continuing to report from military zones.

"Israel is first and foremost a democracy," said Seaman. "And we have allowed the freedom of the press. But Israel beyond that is a nation of law. And we have a law that says that the journalists are not allowed in these areas."

The IFJ launched a fresh appeal for Israel to stop targeting journalists after soldiers fired on the compound where Arafat is still under siege.

"Israel must stop targeting media people," said White. "It is a miracle that someone was not seriously hurt, but tragedy is inevitable unless Israel tells its troops to stop firing on reporters. This incident is a horrifying example of how journalists are being victimised in this conflict.

"The whole world is watching and waiting nervously for news of events on the ground, but journalists are being terrorised just for doing their job. It is completely unacceptable."

The IFJ has written to Israel’s President Ariel Sharon appealing for an end to the targeting of the media in the current conflict.

"Israel must recognise that journalists carrying out their professional duties are non-combatants who are protected by the Geneva Conventions," said White.

lA cameraman working for the France 2 network was shot on Tuesday at a Palestinian refugee camp near Nablus on the West Bank. Gilles Jacquiei, who was wearing a flak jacket, was hit in the collarbone. His wounds were not life-threatening but he was taken to hospital where he was operated on before being transferred to Jerusalem. It is not known who fired the shot.

By Julie Tomlin

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