By: Dimitri Messinis, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Israeli forces fired for 10 to 15 minutes from tank-mounted machine guns on a hotel where journalists were photographing armor targeting the al-Amari refugee camp early Tuesday.
No one was injured in the shooting, which sprayed the glass-enclosed stairwell and nearby rooms where about 40 journalists were working. An ABC television camera left running on a tripod when the journalists took cover was hit by seven bullets — one directly in the lens.
The army said the tanks were returning fire from a gunman located somewhere on the upper floors of the hotel and that they were unaware journalists were working from the building. “It was dark,” a spokesperson said. An investigation was continuing, the army said.
The reporters said there were no gunmen in the four-story New City Inn, where about 40 television and photo journalists covering the army assault on al-Amari were working from the upper floors.
“If there is a gunman, I would not stay in the building for one minute,” said ABC television news producer Nasser Atta, who has 13 years experience covering conflicts in the Middle East.
The journalists, working mostly for U.S. and European media outlets, had chosen the hotel some 300-400 yards from the camp’s perimeter because it was well-situated to observe the army assault without being caught in the cross fire, Atta said. All the rooms were occupied by journalists, except for four rented to a Swedish company, he said.
He said the tanks earlier had driven by the hotel parking lot containing about 20 media vehicles clearly marked with large lettering.
The journalists recorded the assault on the camp undisturbed for about 40 minutes before two tanks turned and opened fire from machine guns without warning about 3 a.m. The army surrounded the al-Amari camp in Ramallah as part of raids on several Palestinian towns and refugee camps in recent days aimed at detaining militants and seizing weapons.
“The minute the first round hit, we just all hit the ground,” Atta said. “It was a terrifying experience. We did not expect it.” The fire shattered glass in the stairwell and adjoining rooms, damaging walls and furniture and bursting a water pipe, Atta said.
The firing stopped after the journalists contacted the army to inform officials they were in the hotel, Atta said. The army said it apologized to the journalists for any damaged caused to equipment.
Journalists in the hotel at the time were working for the U.S. networks ABC and CNN, Italy’s Rai Uno, Germany’s ARD, the Qatar-based satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, Reuters, AFP, and The Associated Press.