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Gaza doctors: Israeli shell killed cameraman

Image: Palestinian mourners carry the body of Reuters cameraman Shana during his funeral in Gaza City
Palestinian mourners carry the body of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, 23, during his funeral in Gaza City on Thursday. Pool / Reuters
/ Source: news services

Metal darts from an Israeli tank shell that explodes in the air caused the death of a Reuters cameraman killed a day earlier in the Gaza Strip, doctors said Thursday, according to Reuters.

X-rays displayed by physicians who examined the body of Fadel Shana in Gaza's Shifa hospital showed several of the controversial weapons, known as flechettes, embedded in the 23-year-old Palestinian's chest and legs.

Several of the 3 cm (1 inch)-long darts were also found in Shana's flak jacket, emblazoned with a fluorescent "Press" sign, and in his vehicle, an unarmored sport utility vehicle bearing "TV" and "Press" markings.

"Fadel seemed to be saying a prayer. Those were his last words," said Reuters soundman Wafa Abu Mizyed, who was wounded in the wrist by one of the darts and began to recollect the incident only a day later.

Marches through Gaza City
The report came as thousands of Palestinians, including journalists and members of rival political movements, marched through the streets of Gaza City at Shana's funeral procession.

Shana, 23,was among 20 Palestinians killed in fighting Wednesday — the bloodiest day in Gaza in more than a month. Shana was struck, along with two bystanders, as he filmed Israeli tank movements off in the distance.

Shana’s body was wrapped in a bloodied Palestinian flag as fellow journalists marched alongside carrying his broken camera and bloodstained flak jacket. The marchers waved Palestinian flags and carried small posters of Shana posing with his camera.

“Fadal Shana, goodbye, the victim of the truth,” the posters said.

Later, the body was taken to Shana’s hometown of Khan Younis in southern Gaza. About 3,000 Palestinians attended the funeral. “Fadel, Fadel, loved by God,” the crowd chanted.

Young Palestinian men wailed in grief and a woman on a balcony screamed and banged her hands on the railing. Gunmen fired into the air and flags from the rival Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements were seen.

'Impossible to stop me'
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."

Abu Mizyed said Shana had stopped along a roadside and placed his camera on a tripod to film "wide shots" of an area near the scene of an Israeli air strike. An Israeli tank, he said, was about a half-mile away.

"We believe that an Israeli tank fired possibly two missiles that were full of small metal darts in the direction of the crew and the first of these killed Fadel and two other people and the second destroyed our car," Reuters bureau chief Alastair Macdonald told a news conference.

Macdonald said the Israeli army "told us that they can't confirm that a tank fired at that time, in that place."

"But they expressed their regrets. They have said that they do not target journalists and they have said that they hope to be able to cooperate with us in investigating the incident in the interest of improving security for journalists," he added.

Shana, who was unmarried, was a popular figure among the 15-strong Reuters news team in the Gaza Strip, the agency reported. 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 soldier shot a Reuters photographer in the leg in Gaza in October. Two Reuters journalists were wounded by an Israeli tank shell in the enclave in 2003.

Also in 2003, one of the most widely renowned Palestinian journalists to work for Reuters, television cameraman Mazen Dana, was shot dead by a U.S. soldier in Baghdad. Six other Reuters journalists have been killed in that conflict.

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 Defense Forces and by the government."

"The markings on Fadel Shana's vehicle showed clearly and unambiguously that he was a professional journalist doing his duty. 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, an Israeli military spokeswoman said: "The Israel Defence Forces do not, as a rule, comment on the weapons they use. But its weapons are legal under international law.

"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.

Video from Shana's camera showed the tank opening fire. Two seconds after the shot raises dust around its gun, the tape goes blank — seemingly at the moment Shana was hit.

A frame-by-frame examination of the tape shows the shell exploding in the air and dark shapes shooting out from it.

Describing Shana's last moments, Abu Mizyed said he was moving away a group of children who were disturbing the cameraman when he heard an explosion behind him.

Turning around, he saw Shana and two youngsters — who also died — lying in pools of blood.

Doubts cast on cease-fire efforts
Wednesday’s death toll, which included the killing of three Israeli soldiers in a Hamas ambush, was the highest since a broad Israeli military offensive in early March killed more than 120 Gazans, including dozens of civilians, over several days. Israel carried out the offensive in response to heavy rocket barrages on southern Israeli towns launched by the ruling Hamas militant group.

Since then, Israel and Hamas had appeared to be honoring an informal truce, though punctuated with Palestinian rocket attacks, some Israeli airstrikes and a deadly Palestinian attack that killed two Israeli civilians at a fuel depot. Meanwhile, Egyptian mediators have been trying to negotiate a cease-fire between the two sides.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the “Israeli aggression in Gaza” and urged all sides to “cooperate with Egyptian efforts.”

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the violence cast doubt on Egyptian cease-fire efforts. “There can be no discussion of a truce in the midst of these crimes,” he said, threatening revenge against Israel.

Hamas advocates the destruction of Israel while Israel considers Hamas a terror group.

In new violence Thursday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants in a raid in the West Bank town of Qabatiya. Troops surrounded the hideout early Thursday, and exchanged fire for about an hour with the Islamic Jihad militants inside, before shooting them dead.

Abu Ahmad, an Islamic Jihad, spokesman vowed a swift retribution. “You will not escape the coming revenge,” he said.