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'We won’t give up': Anger and grief over Israeli killing of Gazan video journalist

Yasser Murtaja was one of nine Palestinians shot dead during 'March of Return' protests on Gaza-Israeli border
Yasser Murtaja's body is carried through the streets of Gaza (Mohammed Asad)

GAZA CITY - Anger greeted the killing of nine unarmed protesters on the second Friday of Gaza's "March of Return" demonstrations, including Yasser Murtaja, a Palestinian video journalist who was shot dead by an Israeli sniper despite the clearly visible "Press" sign on his jacket.

Holding Palestinian flags and playing Palestinian national songs from speakers, thousands gathered in the five locations along the borders demanding the right of return for those Palestinians expelled during the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The second Friday was called the "Friday of Tyres" where protesters used tyres and mirrors to block the vision of the Israeli snipers. 

Murtaja, who works for Ein Media, had been covering all the protests at the border fence.

"After prayer time, protesters started to burn tyres, the Israelis started to randomly shoot, and Yasser was filming the injuries next to me. Suddenly the Israeli snipers targeted him. He fell on the ground and started calling for me to rescue him," said Hosam Salem, one of Yasser’s best friends and a photographer at the scene. 

(Mohammed Asad)

He wanted to travel, I was sad he wanted to leave Gaza Strip. Now he's left Gaza for the sky

- Hanaa Al-Hendi, Yasser Murtaja's wife

"He was wearing the flak jacket with the "Press" label, he was holding his Canon 5D camera - it was obvious he was a journalist, not a protester."

According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Murtaja died from the wounds he sustained on Friday. Murtaja was injured in his stomach, one of 79 people who suffered critical injuries.

His mother told Middle East Eye that Yasser, who was one of Gaza's best-known journalists, was in a "better place".

"He is a journalist, he was doing his job. I never imagined I would lose him," she said, with tears filling her eyes. "He is always smiling, the smile never left his beautiful face.

"I'm going to miss his beautiful soul, I'm very proud of him. I'm sure he is in a better place now."

Yasser was father to a two-year-old boy with his wife Hanaa Al-Hendi, whom he married in 2014.

"He wanted to travel. I was sad he wanted to leave Gaza Strip. Now he's left Gaza for the sky," she told MEE.

Use of force

Since the beginning of the March of Return protests on 30 March, 10 journalists have been injured by live ammunition and 18 have been injured by tear gas canisters.

In addition to the nine Palestinians killed on Friday, at least 491 were wounded by Israeli gunfire, the health ministry in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip said. 

Israeli source said there were around 20,000 protesters and that they had been seeking to breach the border.

UN chief Antonio Guterres urged Israel to "exercise extreme caution with the use of force" ahead of the latest clashes, and on Friday Kuwait called on the Security Council to investigate the deaths.

Israel has rebuffed international calls for a probe into last Friday's killings.

The Israeli army said its troops opened fire "in accordance with the rules of engagement".

The military said "attempts were made to infiltrate into Israel under the cover of a smokescreen" and that firebombs and explosive devices were thrown at the soldiers.

Press watchdog Reporters Without Borders said in a tweet it was "saddened to learn" that Murtaja had died after being "shot while covering Gaza demonstrations".

Ibraheem Zaanoun, a 22-year-old freelance photographer, was also injured by the Israeli snipers on Friday.

"I was 150 metres away, I was wearing the press jacket. A sniper wanted to kill me, he wanted to shoot me in the chest, but it hit me in the hand," said Zaanoun.

"I was about to hold my camera to capture a photo of an injury right beside me - the minute I held the camera, I was shot. Before being shot, I was on the ground suffocating [from] the tear gas inhalation; they were throwing a lot of tear gas on the journalists."

Translation: I wish I could take this picture from the air. My name is Yasser. I am 30 years old. I live in Gaza. I have never travelled.

Zaanoun said he would undergo surgery in the upcoming week because there were still parts of the bullet inside his hand.

"They killed Yasser and injured my hand. They are violating us. They don't want us to transfer the truth on the field, they wanted to kill the people without anyone knowing. But we won't give up. We will keep covering the Israeli violations against the Palestinian protests," he said.

"The world has to know the truth and what happens during the protests."

Additional reporting by AFP

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