TEL AVIV, April 11 — Israel’s defence minister yesterday accused a Palestinian journalist killed by the army during protests along the Gaza border of having been a member of the military wing of Islamist group Hamas.
The claim was immediately rejected by one of Yasser Murtaja’s colleagues, who called the statement “ridiculous.”
Separately the US State Department said Murtaja’s company Ain Media had recently been granted USAID funding, though no technical assistance or equipment had yet been given.
Minister Avigdor Lieberman told journalists Murtaja was a “terrorist with a prior association with the military arm of Hamas,” claiming he held a “rank similar to captain.”
He said the journalist had been paid by Hamas since 2011 and had used a drone to collect information on Israeli forces along the border.
He did not produce evidence for the claims and did not say whether Murtaja had flown a drone during Friday’s clashes, when he was shot.
Murtaja was wearing a press vest when he was hit a few hundred metres from the border during the protests, witnesses said.
The army has not said if he was deliberately targeted or hit by accident.
Murtaja was well known in the Gaza media scene.
With Ain Media he worked on documentaries published on Al Jazeera and with the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.
Rushdi Al-Serraj, director at Ain Media and co-founder with Murtaja, said Lieberman’s statements were “ridiculous comments that are not worth responding to.”
“Yasser has been working for years in the press and making films for the United Nations, China and others,” he told AFP.
“They killed a journalist and should confess it is a crime.”
In a statement Hamas said they had video evidence that proved Murtaja was wearing a press vest and using a video camera, not a drone, when he was killed.
The statement did not respond to Lieberman’s other allegations regarding Hamas links.
Murtaja’s funeral was attended by Hamas’s leader Ismail Haniya.
He regularly attends funerals of those killed in conflict with Israel, even if they are not members of the movement.
Israeli forces have killed 31 Palestinians since March 30 in protests and clashes along the border with Gaza, which has been blockaded for a decade.
Israel has rejected calls from the European Union, United Nations chief Antonio Guterres and other for an independent investigation into the deaths.
The army says its troops only open fire to stop attempts to damage the fence, infiltrations, bids to carry out attacks and at those seeking to harm soldiers.
Israel has fought three wars with Hamas since 2008 and says the blockade of Gaza is necessary to isolate the Islamist movement. — AFP