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JOURNALISTS KILLED IN GAZA; FOREIGN REPORTERS STILL BANNED

Journalists and media houses continue to be in the firing line of Israel Defense Forces (IDF), say IFEX members ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and others, who count at least five journalists and media professionals killed in the recent Gaza conflict.

Alwan Radio broadcaster Alaa Murtaja died after being seriously injured in a bomb attack on his house in Gaza City on 9 January. Israeli warplanes also bombed the home of Palestinian public TV cameraman Ihab al-Wahidi on 8 January. There are reports that journalist Omar Silawi was also killed by an IDF attack on 3 January.

Basel Faraj, who worked as an assistant cameraman for the Algerian TV network ENTV and the Palestine Media and Communications Company, was wounded as a result of an Israeli air strike on his crew on the first day of the military offensive, 27 December. He died on 6 January. Two other journalists were injured in the strike.

And Hamza Shahin, a photographer with the Shehab News Agency, died on 26 December from wounds sustained in an earlier Israeli air attack on 7 December.

Israeli aircraft also bombed Al-Johara Tower in Gaza City, on 9 January, even though the building was clearly marked as housing media staff, report IFEX members. More than 20 news organisations work in Al-Johara, including Iran's English-language Press TV and the Arabic language network Al-Alam. Satellite transmission equipment on the roof of the building was destroyed and at least one journalist was reported injured.

The IFEX members were particularly concerned because the coordinates for the building were provided to the Israeli military and floodlights on the roof clearly identify the building.

"The Israeli military knows the location of TV facilities, houses and news bureaus in Gaza. It is simply unacceptable that working journalists and their offices should come under fire in this way," said CPJ. "Journalists enjoy protections under international law in military campaigns such as the one in Gaza. Israel must cease its attacks on the media immediately."

Media facilities have come under Israeli fire in two other instances since the military campaign started. The IDF shelled the offices of the Hamas-affiliated "Al-Risala" newsweekly on 5 January and the headquarters of Al-Aqsa TV on 29 December. Al-Aqsa continues to broadcast from a remote location.

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (Mada) and IFJ also report that two of Al-Alam's journalists, Khadir Shahin and his producer, have been unlawfully detained by the IDF since 5 January. "Israel has no legitimate reason to detain journalists who are neither on its soil nor involved in fighting in Gaza," said IFJ.

Meanwhile, IFEX members welcomed the UN Human Rights Council resolution of 12 January which calls for "free access of media to areas of conflict through media corridors." IFJ is urging the UN to investigate the targeting of media by Israeli forces and to take action against Israel where it has violated international law and the resolution.

Despite an Israeli Supreme Court ruling ordering the government to allow a limited pool of journalists to enter Gaza, the army continues to block entry of foreign reporters. IFEX members, including IFJ, ARTICLE 19, and the World Association of Newspapers (WAN), say this is an attempt to manipulate media reporting of the conflict.

A petition launched by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) for international journalists to be allowed into the Gaza Strip has already been signed by more than 100 media organisations from around the world.

According to RSF, the IDF allowed Reuters and the BBC to cover the activities of some Israeli soldiers for a few hours. But journalists for most television networks are broadcasting from a hill outside Sderot, and relying on Gazan journalists to serve as their eyes and ears.

"There is a cynical attempt to ensure that media tell the story from the Israeli side only," said IFJ. "The truth cannot be told unless journalists are free to move, to talk with everyone involved and to see with their own eyes what is happening on the ground."

For the list of media that have signed the petition, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29928

International media development organisation Internews has launched a humanitarian information service to get news to people living in Gaza, and is also providing hand-crank, solar-powered radios to those most affected by the crisis. See: http://www.internews.org/humanitarian/gaza/default.shtm

IFJ has opened a Gaza Safety Fund account for donations towards further humanitarian aid to the victims of violence in Gaza. For more information contact IFJ at: +32 2 235 2207.

Also visit these links:
- ARTICLE 19: http://tinyurl.com/7czg3g
- CPJ: http://cpj.org/2009/01/journalists-killed-in-gaza.php
- IFJ: http://mena.ifj.org/en/articles
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29968
- WAN: http://www.wan-press.org/article18009.html
- MADA: http://www.madacenter.org
(14 January 2009)

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