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Israeli forces kill Palestinian journalist covering Gaza rally

News - Middle East

Yaser Murtaja succumbs to wounds after being shot during Friday's protests, bringing death toll to 31 since March 30.

A Palestinian journalist shot by Israeli forces during a mass demonstration along the Gaza border has died of his wounds.

Yaser Murtaja, a photographer with the Gaza-based Ain Media agency, was shot in the stomach in Khuza'a in the south of the Gaza Strip on Friday, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Murtaja, 30, was hit despite wearing a blue flak jacket marked with the word "press", indicating he was a journalist.

Hosam Salem, a photographer at the scene of the incident, said on Friday that he witnessed Murtaja drop to the ground after being shot by Israeli forces.

"Yaser was filming with his camera next to me when we heard the sound of gunfire," Salem said. "He just fell on the ground and said, 'I've been shot, I've been shot.'"

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said seven other reporters were injured in Friday's protest, in what they described as "deliberate crimes committed by the Israeli army".

The union posted photos of journalist Khalil Abu Athira, who was shot during his coverage of Gaza's protest on Friday.

It also called for mass participation in the funeral of Murtaja, and for a protest to be held at 12pm (09:00 GMT) at the Manara Square in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah.

They also called for the United Nations to protect journalists and to implement UN Resolution 2222 into concrete steps.

In a statement, the Israeli army said that it "does not intend to shoot at journalists, and the circumstances in which journalists were allegedly injured by [the Israeli army] gunfire are unknown and are being investigated".

March of Return rallies

In addition to Murtaja's death, the health ministry announced on Saturday the killing of another man, 20-year-old Hamza Abdel Aal, bringing the number of those killed during Friday's protests to nine.

A total of 31 Palestinians have now been shot dead since the start of the protests on March 30, when tens of thousands took to the border area with Israel, demanding the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

Live ammunition, rubber-coated steel bullet and tear gas fired at the rallies by Israeli soldiers, wounded at least 1,400 thus far.

The Palestinian health ministry reported that on Friday 491 people were injured by live ammunition after Israeli forces fired on protesters who had gathered near the Israeli border in the besieged Gaza Strip.

At least 33 of the injured have been described by the ministry as "critical cases".

Friday's demonstration was the second in as many weeks of a planned, weeks-long sit-in dubbed the Great March of Return.

Its main message is to call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees who were driven from their homes in the territories taken over by Israel during the 1948 war, known to Arabs as the Nakba

Around 70 percent of Gaza's two million populations were forced from their homes and now live in a territory of about 360sq km, which has been described as "the world's largest open-air prison".

Israel has drawn sharp criticism for its open-fire orders along the border, including its warnings that those approaching or trying to damage the fence would be targeted.

On March 31, a day after the first protest took place, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Israel's troops for "guarding the country's borders".

"Well done to our soldiers," he wrote in a statement.

On April 1, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman rejected any independent investigation into the killings. "There will be no such thing here. We shall not cooperate with any commission of inquiry," he told Israeli public radio.

Lieberman warned on April 3 that protesters who approach the border between Gaza and Israel will put "their life in danger".


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