Sunday, January 18, 2009

Media run risks to report from Gaza

Reporters Sans Frontières have hailed the release of two Palestinian journalists employed by the Iranian Arabic-language TV station Al-Alam. The two had been held by the Israeli authorities for 10 days on spying charges. But they are not the only journalists who have had difficulties in recent weeks attempting to cover the Gaza conflict.

On Friday CNN’s Ben Wedeman reported that a journalist working for Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera was shot at by Israeli troops as he attempted to make his way north from Khan Yunis to Gaza city. At least 15 rounds were fired into his vehicle and according to Reporters Sans Frontières he sustained a minor injury to his hand as his car clearly displaying ‘TV’ was fired upon at an Israeli checkpoint. It was not the only incident to occur this week. On Thursday a television centre was struck causing outrage amongst journalists working in Gaza [AP]. At a press conference one journalist called the Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni a terrorist and some likened Israel’s bar on foreign correspondents from crossing into Gaza to that of Robert Mugabe who has consistently refused access by western media into Zimbabwe [Haaretz].

But even before last week’s incidents several other journalists have been killed or injured. According to the International Federation of Journalists at least five journalists have been killed during Operation Cast Lead. Alwan Radio broadcaster Alaa Murtaja died after being seriously injured in a bomb attack on his house in Gaza City on 9th January. Israeli warplanes also bombed the home of Palestinian public TV cameraman Ihab al-Wahidi the previous day and there are reports that journalist Omar Silawi was killed by an IDF attack on 3rd 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, 27th December. He died on 6th January. Two other journalists were also injured in the strike.

Even before the latest operation media workers were being injured. Hamza Shahin, a photographer with the Shehab News Agency, died on 26th December from wounds sustained in an Israeli air attack on 7th December.

Even Friday’s apparent targeting of a television centre was not the first. Israeli aircraft also bombed Al-Johara Tower in Gaza City, on 9th January despite being clearly marked as housing media staff [IFEX]. 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.

A day before the ceasefire was announced several journalists managed to gain access to Gaza via the border with Egypt. Many organisations took the decision to cross via Egypt after continued calls on Israel to allow them to cross into Gaza were ignored [RSF / CNN]. But crossing over from Egypt did not come without its hurdles and much negotiation. The first British journalist to arrive in the war torn region was the BBC correspondent Christian Fraser. CNN’s Ben Wedeman had also crossed into southern Gaza and later filed a report by telephone. Although some journalists are arriving as a tenuous ceasefire begins, they may at least be able to report on the humanitarian disaster that is beginning to take hold in the devastated region.

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