Israel must explain 'targeting' journalists: watchdog
JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse
A member of civil defence inspects the damage after an Israeli air strike, witnessed by a Reuters journalist, on a floor in a building that also houses media offices in Gaza City November 19, 2012. REUTERS PhotoIsrael must provide an "immediate and detailed explanation" for its targeting of journalists and media buildings during last month's Gaza conflict, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Sunday.
In a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the watchdog said it was "gravely concerned that Israeli airstrikes targeted individual journalists and media facilities in the Gaza Strip between November 18 and 20." The New-York based CPJ noted that two cameramen for Hamas's Al-Aqsa television station and the director of the private Al-Quds Educational Radio were killed by Israel during its eight-day military campaign to halt rocket fire from Gaza.
At least three media buildings, including one housing AFP's Gaza office, were hit during the conflict.
"Israeli officials have broadly asserted that the individuals and facilities had connections to terrorist activity but have disclosed no substantiation for these very serious allegations," the letter reads.
The group says it has made repeated requests to Israel's military and defence ministry seeking explanations.
"We request your government provide an immediate and detailed explanation for its actions," CPJ executive director Joel Simon wrote.
Netanyahu's spokesman Mark Regev said Israel would reply to the CPJ's letter via Israel's US ambassador.
He stressed to AFP that "Israel made every effort possible to avoid killing journalists caught up in the crossfire." "There were a number of situations where terrorist operatives used journalists as human shields, in those cases we acted as surgically as humanly possible," he said.
He blamed Gaza rulers Hamas, as well as militant group Islamic Jihad for adopting "a deliberate policy of using journalists as human shields." "People concerned about the wellbeing of journalists should possibly raise these concerns with both Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but I suppose one doesn't have high expectations of terrorist groups," he said.
CPJ said all journalists "regardless of the perspective from which they report" were entitled to protection under international law.
"The Israeli government does not have the right to selectively define who is and who is not a journalist based on national identity or media affiliation," the group wrote.
Regev said "nobody is targeted because of their opinions," but his office and the Israeli military could not provide details on the alleged non-media activities of the journalists targeted.
"Many times we cannot share sensitive information with the broad public," army spokesman Aryeh Shalicar said, insisting those targeted were militants.
"Not only were they terrorists, they were using the cover of the press to continue their actions," he told AFP. "Based on our sources, we know exactly who we hit, and stand behind our actions."