April 7, 2018 / 9:54 AM / in 2 months

Palestinian journalist killed in Israel-Gaza protests

* At least 29 Palestinians killed in week of protests

* Journalist was wearing protective vest marked ‘PRESS’

* Israel says protecting its civilians, border with Gaza

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA, April 7 (Reuters) - A Palestinian journalist died on Saturday after being wounded by Israeli fire on Friday while covering deadly protests along the Israel-Gaza border, health officials said.

Yaser Murtaja, 30, a cameraman for Palestinian Ain Media, was the 29th Palestinian killed in the week-long protests.

Photos showed Murtaja lying wounded on a stretcher wearing a navy-blue protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ in large black capital letters. Health officials said a live bullet had penetrated the side of his abdomen and he succumbed to his wounds in hospital.

An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment.

The protests began on March 30 along the Israel-Gaza frontier with daily demonstrations dubbed “The Great March of Return”. Israel has stationed sharpshooters to stop attempts by Palestinians to breach the border or sabotage the security fence.

Freelance photographer Ashraf Abu Amra told Reuters he was next to Murtaja, whom he said was wearing a helmet and protective vest. Abu Amra said they were both clearly marked as journalists.

“We were filming as youths torched tyres. We were about 250 meters from the fence,” said Abu Amra. “Israeli forces opened fire and injuries began. Yaser and I ran to film when suddenly Yaser fell to the ground.

“I screamed to him ‘Yaser are you alright?’. He didn’t respond and there was blood on the ground underneath him. I knew it was a bad injury and people carried him away,” said Abu Amra.

AMBULANCE

Video footage showed Murtaja being placed in an ambulance with crowds around and black smoke billowing in the distance, where protesters had set tyres alight.

Israel Radio, citing an unnamed source in Gaza, said Murtaja had been operating a camera drone on Friday. Abu Amra and two other Palestinian journalists said Murtaja was not operating a camera drone when shot.

Murtaja, on his Facebook page, had posted two aerial photos taken at the border in the past week. It was unclear if he had taken them himself.

At least three other journalists were wounded on Friday in other locations, Gaza officials said. There have been no Israeli casualties in the protests so far.

Israel’s response to the protests has drawn international criticism, with human rights groups saying it involved live fire against demonstrators posing no immediate threat to life.

Israel says it is doing what it must to defend its border and its troops have been responding with riot dispersal means and fire “in accordance with the rules of engagement”.

Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, says the protests will continue. The demonstrators have revived a longstanding demand for the right of return of Palestinian refugees to towns and villages from which their families fled, or were driven out, when the state of Israel was created.

The Israeli government has ruled out any right of return, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.

Israel says many of the dead were militants and that Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the West, is using the protests as cover to launch attacks along the border and ignite the area, while putting Gaza’s civilians at risk.

Hamas rejects this. (Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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