B’Tselem demands Military Police investigation of firing at journalists in Gaza

Palestinian journalists inspect a Reuters armored car after it was hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza, 27 August 2006. (MaanImages/Wesam Saleh)

On Sunday [27 August], the Israeli air force fired at a Reuter press vehicle near the Shaja’iyah neighborhood in Gaza. Two journalists in the vehicle were injured, one of them severely.

An IDF spokesperson stated that the vehicle was attacked during an IDF operation because the vehicle “was driving suspiciously near IDF forces operating in the area.” The spokesperson contended that the soldiers did not identify the vehicle as one that belonged to the press agency, and regretted that the journalists were injured. According to Reuters, and from photos that appeared in the media, the vehicle was clearly marked as a press vehicle on all sides and on its roof.

International humanitarian law expressly prohibits attacks on journalists working in areas of hostilities, and grants them the status of protected persons, identical to that of civilians who are not taking part in the hostilities. To promote compliance with this obligation, humanitarian law requires the sides to use all available means of verification to ensure that the objects of attack are indeed legitimate targets. Intentional strikes at civilians who are not involved in the hostilities, including attacks on journalists carrying out their tasks, is a grave breach of international humanitarian law, i.e., a war crime.

The circumstances of the attack raise concern that the air force intentionally fired at the vehicle, knowing it was a press vehicle. Even if it is found that the soldiers erred in identifying the target, there are grounds for believing that they failed to take the necessary means of caution under the circumstances to verify that the vehicle was a legitimate military target. On this background, B’Tselem wrote to the judge advocate general, demanding that he order a Military Police investigation into the incident, and that he prosecute the persons responsible if the suspicions are confirmed.

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