Palestinian journalist shot dead by Israeli sniper while wearing press vest

A Palestinian journalist was shot dead by Israeli forces while wearing a clearly visible press vest.

Yaser Murtaja, 30, was the 29th Palestinian killed in the week-long protests in Gaza.

Photos showed Murtaja lying wounded on a stretcher wearing a protective vest marked ‘PRESS’ in large black capital letters. He was shot in the side of his abdomen and later died from his wound in hospital. At least nine Palestinians were killed and 491 others injured in the second mass border protest in eight days.

Murtaja, a freelance cameraman who had worked for the BBC and the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, was filming in the Khan Younis area of southern Gaza and was about 300 metres from the Israeli border fence when he was shot, his colleagues said.

The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said it was investigating the shooting of Mr Murtaja and other Palestinian journalists.

“The IDF does not intentionally target journalists. The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF, and are being looked into,” a spokesman said.

Family and friends of Murtaja accused Israeli forces of deliberately targeting the cameraman, saying there was no way a sniper could have mistaken him for a protester when he was clearly marked as a journalist.

“He was wearing a press jacket and a helmet,” said Rushdi Serraj, a journalist who was with Murtaja when he was shot. “The vest was so visible. It’s clear that they targeted him on purpose.”

Murtaja was married and had a three-year-old son. While he had worked for many leading international media outlets, he had never left the walled confines of Gaza and dreamed of one day flying in an airplane.

“My name is Yaser Murtaja. I’m 30. I live in Gaza City. I have never travelled,” he wrote in a Facebook post on March 24, illustrated by a picture he had taken with his drone. “I hope one day I can take such a photo in the sky and not on the ground.”

“He was always smiling, everyone loved him” said Mr Serraj, who co-founded a small production company with Murtaja. “No one can ever replace Yaser.”

Murtaja worked on Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow documentary about the refugee crisis. The artist posted a photograph of him on Instagram on Saturday, showing him lying on the ground moments after he was shot.

His colleagues carried his body through the streets of Gaza City, draped in a Palestinian flag and the blue flak jacket which was not enough to save his life.

Thousands of people turned out for Murtaja’s funeral al-Omari mosque. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political wing, spoke at the funeral. Friends said Murtaja was not affiliated with Hamas or any other political faction.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said seven Palestinian journalists were shot on Friday, but at least one of the names on the list appeared to have suffered teargas inhalation not gunshot wounds.

Among those shot was Adham al-Hajar, a 32-year-old freelance photographer. He was shot in the left leg while photographing demonstrations at a border protest site east of Gaza City.

Like Murtaja, Mr Hajar was wearing a vest clearly marked with “Press” on it. The vest was made of denim and had no armour plating.

Mr Hajar said real body armour was difficult to find in Gaza and that he asked a tailor to make him the 50 shekel (£10) vest in the hope it would it would clearly identify him as journalist to Israeli snipers.

“It’s not a real flak jacket. It just shows that you’re a journalist and it’s supposed to protect you,” he said from his bed in Shifa hospital. “I did my best to make it visible to for the Israeli army that I’m press. As a journalist I didn’t expect the Israeli army to shoot at me.”

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