TEL AVIV – Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Sunday slammed calls for a probe into the death of a Palestinian photojournalist during the Hamas-planned mass riots on the border with Gaza, saying that Hamas terrorists often disguised themselves as journalists.
Liberman added that the journalist may have been illegally operating a drone above an IDF soldier when he was shot below the armpit while wearing a “press” flak jacket.
“The demand to investigate the shooting…is hypocrisy, the march of folly to which we are accustomed,” he said. “We have seen dozens of cases of Hamas activists disguised as medics and journalists. We also saw a journalist approach the border and operate a drone, we do not take chances in those cases. We issued warnings in English and Arabic to the protesters urging them not to endanger themselves. In the march of terror there were no innocent civilians, they were all Hamas members.”
The IDF on Saturday denied deliberately targeting Yasser Murtaja and said it was investigating the incident.
“For weeks we have been warning against coming close to the fence and calling on Gaza’s residents not to obey the orders of the terror group Hamas and refrain from terror activities and other violent acts against Israel,” the IDF said. “Despite this, since last Friday the IDF has been dealing with tens of thousands of people approaching the fence, all instigated by Hamas.”
“In response, IDF forces are acting under clear orders designed for these circumstances. The IDF does not deliberately target journalists. The circumstances in which the journalist was supposedly hit by IDF fire are not known and they are being investigated,” the army said.
The Journalists Association wrote a letter to IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot urging an open inquiry into the death.
Liberman said Saturday night, “I don’t know who is or isn’t a photographer. Anyone who operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand he’s putting himself in danger.”
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh joined hundreds of people at Murtaja’s funeral on Saturday. He said journalists were targeted by Israel for exposing a “true picture of a blockaded, downtrodden people.”
He added that “the Zionist occupation has been unmasked to the world and to the international public for the crimes it is committing against the Palestinian people. The intentional murder of the Palestinian journalist conveys the truth to all.”
So far, 27 Palestinians have been killed by the IDF in two mass protests in eight days, all of whom the military has claimed were involved in violent acts close to the border.
“Hamas sent children out ahead [toward the fence], cynically using them,” the IDF’s spokesman, Ronen Manelis, said on Friday night. Manelis added that eight bombs were found planted along the border and several petrol bombs were hurled at troops. The IDF also stopped numerous attempts by Palestinians “to cut through the fence.”
“There were attempts to carry out acts of terrorism … using the smoke [from burning tires] for cover,” he said. He added however, that “The army did its job. The fence was not breached and [Israel’s] sovereignty was not harmed.”
Friday’s mass protest was the second in the so-called “March of the Return,” initially billed as a “non-violent” demonstration that organizers promised would take place a half-mile away from the border fence, with no attempts to breach it.
The IDF has responded mainly with tear gas and rubber bullets, and only rioters who explicitly used violence against troops or were seen damaging or breaching the security fence were targeted with live fire, the army said.
The protest will be ongoing until May 15’s Nakba Day – the day of “catastrophe” that marks the establishment of the State of Israel which this year celebrates its 70th anniversary.