AFP photographer shot and wounded in Deir Al-Balah

Doctors check Agence France Presse Palestinian photographer Mahmud Hams (25) at Deir al-Balah hospital. Hams was hit by a bullet in this left thigh and by shrapnel in his right leg. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

RSF has called on Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz to hold an “impartial, swift and rigorous” investigation into the shooting of Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Mahmoud Hams in the Gaza Strip on 5 May 2004.

Hams, aged 25, was shot in the left thigh while taking photographs of young Palestinians throwing stones at soldiers during an Israeli army incursion into the central Gaza city of Deir Al-Balah. He was also injured by shrapnel in his right thigh and is being treated at Deir Al-Balah hospital. Late on 5 May, doctors said his condition was stable.

Eyewitnesses said soldiers reacted to the stoning by opening fire in the direction of demonstrators. These same eyewitnesses said there had been no exchange of gunfire in the sector when Hams was injured. The photographer was wearing a helmet and a flak jacket that clearly indicated he was a journalist.

The same day, an Israeli army spokesman told AFP that the army was trying to verify reports of the incident. The army spokesman added that he could not say with any certainty at this stage that Hams was shot by the army. The spokesman said armed men often mingled with young stone-throwers, and that when terrorists open fire while mingling with civilians, it is very difficult for soldiers to distinguish between gunmen and civilians.

RSF noted that, since September 2000, it has recorded at least 58 incidents in which journalists have been shot and wounded while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, Israeli shooting was to blame,” the organisation said in its letter to the defence minister.

“In total, five journalists - two foreigners and three Palestinians - have been killed by the Israeli Defence Forces. For months, [the army] has refused to give the family [of British cameraman James Miller information] or publish the conclusions of an investigation ordered by the military prosecutor-general, Menahem Finkelstein, into the death of the British cameraman on 2 May 2003 in the southern Gaza Strip,” RSF added.

“The Israeli army does not take the presence of journalists on the ground seriously enough and fails to do its utmost to protect them. Instructions given to soldiers in the field lack clarity. No steps have been taken following numerous incidents involving the army and journalists,” RSF concluded in its letter, while calling for an end to this state of affairs.

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