By: Colleen Barry, Associated Press Writer
(AP) An Italian photographer was killed by machine gun fire from an Israeli tank in Ramallah early Wednesday, Palestinian hospital officials and witnesses said. A French photographer was injured by shrapnel and an Egyptian journalist was shot at, also in the West Bank town.
The Israeli army expressed regret over the death of Raffaele Ciriello, 42, but said its investigation had not yet determined the source of the gunfire.
Ciriello was the first foreign journalist killed since Israeli-Palestinian fighting broke out in September 2000. A free-lance photographer, he got his journalist credentials for this assignment from the Italian daily Corriere della Sera — the employer of Maria Grazia Cutuli, a reporter killed with three other journalists in an ambush in Afghanistan in November.
The French photographer, known to colleagues only by his first name, Hubert, was hit by shrapnel while working near Manara Square, not far from where Ciriello was killed an hour earlier. The journalists saw a Palestinian gunman firing down a street, when suddenly a bomb went off near the gunman, sending shrapnel flying, said Benjamin Lalizou, a French photographer who was there.
Palestinian gunmen often plant small bombs in the streets intended for Israeli tanks.
In the third incident in Ramallah, 35-year-old Egyptian TV correspondent Tareq Abdel Jaber said Israeli soldiers fired at least five shots at his car, clearly marked with big TV signs. Jaber said one bullet struck him in the right side, but was stopped by a flak jacket.
The group Reporters without Borders says 40 journalists have been wounded by gunfire since fighting began 18 months ago.
Ciriello “had this great passion for photography which he turned into a job,” said Marco Del Corona, a deputy news editor at Corriere della Sera, saying the photographer’s pictures were of “great quality.” Ciriello had arrived for his latest assignment just a few days ago, he said.
Ciriello had worked on many dangerous stories, taking pictures in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and the Palestinian territories, colleagues and friends said. He was married and had an infant daughter, they said. Ciriello’s Web site says he started covering war zones in 1992 and often worked with Cutuli, the woman who was killed in Afghanistan.
Fellow journalist Amedeo Ricucci said he and Ciriello were following Palestinian gunmen through the center of Ramallah at about 9:30 a.m. when an Israeli tank appeared from around the corner. He said soldiers on the tank fired a machine gun from about 150 yards without warning, striking Ciriello in the stomach.
Doctors said he was hit six times in the abdomen. Ricucci and another colleague, both of whom work for Italian television Rai Uno, were not hurt.
“Suddenly a tank appeared from a corner and it opened fire,” Ricucci said. “There was no fighting in the area.”
In an interview with Rai TV, Ricucci said in hindsight it appeared the Palestinian gunmen they saw earlier were signaling the arrival of the Israelis. He also added that after the burst of machine gunfire from the tank, he saw another armed Palestinian had come out from behind the corner.
An Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Col. Olivier Rafowicz, said it was not clear who killed the Italian photographer. “There has been cross fire for several days,” Rafowicz said.
The environment in Ramallah for journalists has grown increasingly tense since Israeli forces took over the West Bank’s commercial and administrative center early Tuesday, enforcing a curfew.
On Tuesday, Ciriello was among about 40 journalists in a Ramallah hotel that came under Israeli tank fire. No one was injured, and the army said it was returning fire from a gunman on the upper floors of the hotel. Journalists in the hotel at the time said there was no gunman.
The Foreign Press Association expressed shock at Wednesday’s incidents and called on both sides in the conflict to ensure journalists’ safety and freedom of movement. “Journalists are the primary independent witnesses to this conflict,” the association said in a statement. “They are in practically all cases easily identifiable as journalists.”