The Associated PressJERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s defense minister said Tuesday that a well-known Gaza journalist who was killed by Israeli gunfire over the weekend was a member of Hamas, an allegation denied by the Islamic militant group and the journalist’s family.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman provided no evidence to back up the claim.
Yasser Murtaja died from a gunshot wound while filming a mass demonstration near the fence with Israel on Friday in an area engulfed in thick black smoke from Palestinians setting tires on fire.
Hamas has called for Palestinians to amass at the border as part of a weekslong campaign of protests against a decade-old Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the territory. It also has suggested that it may attempt a mass border breach.
Israel is closely guarding the fence and has warned it will not tolerate attempts to breach it. Twenty-six protesters have been killed and hundreds wounded since the protests began March 30. Israel says it has only fired at “instigators” trying to carry out attacks.
Murtaja was shot while carrying a video camera and wearing a flak jacket marked with the word “press.”
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Lieberman said that Murtaja was a “terrorist” who had been on the Hamas payroll since 2011. He said Murtaja had used a drone to collect intelligence on Israeli forces along the border.
“This is a member of the military arm of Hamas who holds a rank parallel to that of captain, who was active in Hamas for many years,” Lieberman said. “Once again we see how Hamas uses the media, ambulances and patients, including cancer patients who are sent to hospitals in Israel,” to carry out “terrorist missions.”
Lieberman provided no evidence to support his allegations. Israel’s military said it is still investigating and was not able to confirm Lieberman’s claims.
Murtaja, 30, was the cofounder of Ain Media, a local TV production company that has done projects, including aerial drone filming, for foreign media clients such as the BBC and Al-Jazeera English.
Firm received U.S. grant
The State Department said Tuesday that the media production company had recently received an $11,700 grant from the U.S. government. Ain Media became a USAID program beneficiary last month under a program that supports private sector development. The State Department said the grant was still in its early stages, and no equipment or technical assistance has been provided.