OCUUPIED JERUSALEM – A Reuters cameraman killed by tank fire in the Gaza Strip along with five other civilians this week was deliberately targeted by Israeli forces, Human Rights Watch said on Sunday.
The group said its on-site investigation of Wednesday’s death of Fadel Shana, 23, indicated an Israeli tank crew fired "recklessly or deliberately" at the Reuters news agency cameraman and his soundman.
"Israeli soldiers did not make sure they were aiming at a military target before firing, and there is evidence suggesting they actually targeted the journalists," HRW’s Middle East director, Joe Stork, said in a statement.
According to witnesses and footage taken from Shana’s own camera, there was no military activity by Palestinian militants at the scene of the attack, the HRW report said.
Shana was traveling in a pickup truck with his soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed, who told HRW that they had passed by an Israeli tank on a hilltop and then stopped to film the surrounding area.
Shana, wearing a flak jacket marked "Press" in large letters, "set up his camera and the tripod and asked me to push away some children who had gathered around us," Abu Mizyed told HRW, adding that there was no shooting in the area at the time.
Then he said he heard "a sound like ‘boof’… I looked towards Fadel and found him lying on the ground and repeating the Shehada," he said using the Arabic term for the Muslim declaration of faith.
Three civilians were also killed, including two teenage boys on a bicycle, at the same time as the journalist. On Sunday, two more teenage boys wounded in the attack died of their injuries, medics said.
Abu Mizyed, whose hands were injured, said he ran towards the main road looking for help.
Shana’s footage showed an Israeli tank firing a shell just before the camera went black. Others journalists who arrived at the scene shortly after the shelling also said they came under tank fire.
"The Reuters truck was clearly marked ‘TV’ and ‘Press’ and drove by the tank twice, so it’s hard to believe the Israeli tank crew didn’t see the pickup contained only journalists," Stork said.
Shana was covering clashes that killed 17 other Palestinians and three Israeli soldiers the day he died.
Throughout the day, Israeli troops were in the area "conducting searches and they were under fire the whole time," an army spokeswoman told AFP, disputing reports that Palestinian militants were not active at the scene.
The Israeli military stressed that journalists and other civilians put their lives at risk when they enter combat zones.
The HRW urged Israel to launch an independent investigation into the killings. The army spokeswoman said a formal inquiry would probably be announced soon.
The rights group also called on Israel to stop using flechette shells, the controversial weapon that reportedly killed Shana.
The shells explode in the air, releasing thousands of metal darts, and are widely condemned by rights groups which say they indiscriminately kill civilians, particularly in Gaza, one of the world’s most densely populated areas.
In October 2002, Physicians for Human Rights went to Israel’s High Court seeking to outlaw the use of flechette shells against Palestinians but the court upheld the continued use of the weapon.