TV men killed in missile strike 'legitimate targets', says Israel
Israel says cameramen were killed because they were 'Hamas operatives'
The unprecedented killing of two cameramen from Gaza's Hamas television station in a targeted missile strike this week raised questions about whom Israel considers to be militant operatives, and thus legitimate targets.
Israel said the expanding Hamas media empire is part of the Islamists' "terrorist operations", although it stopped short of branding everyone working for it as a potential target in its offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers.
Al-Aqsa TV, which employed the two journalists, said they were killed on the job, and it accused Israel of trying to silence those documenting the suffering of Gaza's civilians.
On Wednesday, the funeral procession for Mohammed al-Koumi and Hussam Salama set off from Gaza City's Shifa Hospital, just a few hundred metres from where the Israeli missile had struck their car a day before. Several dozen al-Aqsa TV staffers marched behind the bodies. A wreath sent by Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas read: "With blood we write. With blood we film. They will not be able to silence the truth."
Al-Aqsa TV is the centerpiece of Hamas' increasingly sophisticated media operation, launched in 2004 with a small radio station. Al-Aqsa TV and Radio now have about 400 employees.
Al-Aqsa reporters do not pretend to be objective and clearly work in the service of Hamas, using its lingo and loaded terms in on-air comments.
Al-Koumi and Salama were on assignment Tuesday at Shifa Hospital, the central intake for serious injuries, said Al-Aqsa TV chief Mohammed Thouraya. They left in the late afternoon to head to a feed point to hand over their material when their car was struck, he said.
An Israeli military spokeswoman, Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, said the two were targeted as Hamas operatives.
An Israeli government spokesman, Mark Regev, said those working for Hamas media could not be considered journalists.
"They are an integral part of the Hamas structure and no one can deny that fact," he said. "All those involved in targeting Israeli civilians directly or indirectly should not feel that they have impunity."
Regev stopped short of saying all Hamas media employees were potential targets, but would not say where Israel drew the line.
Under the rules of war, media can only be targeted if they contribute to combat, such as relaying military orders, according to the international group Human Rights Watch.
However, the group said, "civilian broadcasting facilities are not rendered legitimate military targets simply because they broadcast pro-Hamas or anti-Israel propaganda. Just as it is unlawful to attack the civilian population to lower its morale, it is unlawful to attack facilities that merely shape civilian opinion; neither directly contributes to military operations."
The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders condemned the killing of the Gaza journalists as a clear violation of international standards.
The group said: "Even if al-Aqsa TV is close to Hamas, those two journalists should not have been targeted because they were not involved in hostilities [at the time] and not contributing to the military effort," she said.