Israeli shell killed Reuters cameraman: Gaza doctors

GAZA (Reuters) - Tiny darts sprayed from a controversial missile used by Israel killed a Reuters cameraman in Gaza, local doctors said on Thursday -- though Israeli forces would not say whether one of their tanks fired the fatal shot.

A medical examination and X-rays showed several 3 cm (inch) -long spikes, known as flechettes, in the body of Fadel Shana, a 23-year-old Palestinian. He was killed on Wednesday as he filmed an Israeli tank dug in about a kilometer (1,000 yards) away.

The last few seconds of video shot on Shana’s tripod-mounted camera show the tank firing, then a mid-air explosion consistent with the burst of a missile. The camera was shattered in the explosion that killed Shana. Black metal darts were embedded in his body armor, which bore a fluorescent strip reading “PRESS”.

Shana’s soundman, Wafa Abu Mizyed, was wounded in the arm and two teenage bystanders were also killed in the incident. A Reuters car carrying “TV” and “Press” markings was destroyed.

Yunes Ramadan Awadallah, one of the physicians who examined Shana’s body at Gaza’s Shifa hospital, said he died of multiple lacerations from the projectiles, some of which entered his chest through his neck and shoulder, severing his spinal cord.

Reuters, backed by media organizations in the region and around the world, has requested an urgent investigation by the Israeli army, which has defended its use of flechette missiles in Gaza against complaints by human rights activists.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she could not confirm that a tank fired at the cameraman nor comment on weaponry it might have used but said the army, which has expressed regret, hoped to cooperate with Reuters to study the incident.

Troops killed 17 Palestinians, including several civilians, on Wednesday after three Israeli soldiers were killed in clashes in the Hamas Islamist-controlled enclave. Another militant was killed in Gaza on Thursday.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said operations would continue until Israelis were no longer under attack from Gaza.

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“Fadel seemed to be saying a prayer. Those were his last words,” said soundman Abu Mizyed, who had been shepherding some children away from the spot where Shana was filming when he heard an explosion and felt a dart enter his wrist.

When he turned, Shana and two of the bystanders lay dying or dead in pools of blood. Then a second explosion set the Reuters car ablaze. “If Fadel hadn’t asked me to get the children away, more of them would have been killed,” Abu Mizyed said.

Bassam Abu Dahroug, 14, showed two bandaged wounds on his legs which he said he sustained in the incident. He recalled Abu Mizyed ushering him and other youths away from Shana’s camera before the blast. He named one of the other dead as 13-year-old Ghassan Abu Ateywey and said the other victim was aged 16.

The Reuters crew had stopped on a back road, some 150 meters (yards) off a main highway, to film the Israeli force visible in the distance. No fighting was taking place at the time though there had been clashes in the area earlier in the day.

In an interview with Al Jazeera television in February, Shana spoke of his dedication to journalism, saying: “It is impossible to stop me from working as a journalist under any circumstances ... I would either have to die or lose my legs.”

Hundreds of people joined funeral processions in Gaza’s main city and, later, from Shana’s family home in the Khan Younis refugee camp in the south of the enclave.

Activists from several Palestinian factions, including Hamas and its arch-rival Fatah, paraded under colored banners in Khan Younis in what they called a mark of respect for the unbiased coverage Shana and his Reuters colleagues offered in Gaza.

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David Schlesinger, editor-in-chief of Reuters News, said the evidence from the medical examination “underlines the importance of a swift, honest and impartial investigation by the Israel Defence Forces and by the government”.

“We and the military must work together urgently to understand why this tragedy took place and how similar incidents can be avoided in the future,” Schlesinger added.

Asked about the information that an Israeli flechette shell had killed Shana, the Israeli military spokeswoman said: “Flechettes are legal under international law and a petition filed in the (Israeli) Supreme Court against their use was rejected,” she added, referring to a case in 2003.

Shana, who was unmarried, was a gentle and popular figure among the 15-strong Reuters news team in the Gaza Strip. The bureau was honored by Britain’s Royal Television Society for its coverage of last year’s factional fighting in Gaza.

Journalists have become casualties on numerous occasions in the Palestinian territories. Media watchdogs estimate that nine have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2000.

An Israeli military official said on Wednesday: “The presence of media ... in areas of warfare is extremely dangerous and poses a threat to their lives.”

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Writing by Jeffrey Heller and Alastair Macdonald, Editing by Mary Gabriel