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Tuesday, April 8

Military fends off criticism after journalists killed

By Alex Neill and Riad Kahwaji | Military Times

CAMP SAHLIYAH, Qatar - U.S. officials defended themselves Tuesday against allegations that the military is targeting journalists after U.S.-led forces fired on a Baghdad hotel where hundreds of journalists are staying and bombed the Baghdad office of Arab television station Al-Jazeera. Three journalists were killed.

Tuesday's bombing, which killed popular Al-Jazeera journalist Tareq Ayoub and injured his cameraman, stirred outrage, grief and suspicion among Arab media.

Nearby, a tank from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division fired into the 14th and 15th floors of the Palestine Hotel, where hundreds of journalists are staying. Two cameramen for Reuters and a Spanish TV station were killed and three Reuters journalists were injured.

The military says its soldiers were being fired on from the building housing the Al-Jazeera office. Army Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks told reporters initially that U.S. forces also had been fired on from the hotel lobby. But he later said, ``I may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from.''

Responding to persistent questions, Brooks repeatedly said, ``This coalition does not target journalists.'' However, he cautioned that journalists not embedded with coalition forces put themselves at risk in a war zone, particularly in Iraq, where enemy militia have taken position in sites that coalition forces have been reluctant to target, such as mosques, schools, hospitals and elsewhere.

``We don't know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield,'' Brooks said. ``It's a dangerous place indeed.''

Mark Schapiro and Nabeel Khoury, who form the U.S. State Department's Arab Media Support Unit, were at the Al-Jazeera offices four hours Sunday night to meet with the chairman of the Al-Jazeera board.

``It was very friendly and I think we made friends there,'' Schapiro said. ``They sort of welcomed us as friends and we had a great time with them. So (the bombing incident) was something that hit us personally.''

Khoury went on Al-Jazeera soon after the bombing was made public and in Arabic expressed condolences on behalf of the U.S. government.

Al-Jazeera on Tuesday evening aired a half-hour special about Ayoub, a 35-year-old Jordanian who was married with a 1-year-old daughter. After the report, Al-Jazeera held a news conference at its offices, attended by about 100 representatives of Arab-language media.

``It's very disturbing to see journalists hit in an area marked and known as a press building,'' said Salah Nagm, editor in chief of Al Arabiya, the Dubai-based 24-hour news channel that is Al-Jazeera's main rival. ``We hope U.S. forces will respect the right of journalists to cover the war independently.''

The incident was the second in which an Al-Jazeera bureau had come under fire, said Al-Jazeera board Chairman Sheik Hamad bin Tamer al-Thani. The Al-Jazeera office in Kabul, Afghanistan, was bombed in 2001 by American planes during the war to oust the Taliban. However, he stopped short of saying the incidents were deliberate.

``We hope that further investigation is carried out by the U.S. military into today's incident,'' he said.

Omar Isawi, a reporter for Al-Jazeera, said there was no excuse for the Baghdad bombing.

``We gave the U.S. military the (Global Positioning Satellite) coordinates two months before the war so that there would not be a repeat of the Kabul incident,'' he said.

Killed at the Palestine Hotel were Reuters cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian, and Spanish TV Telecinco cameraman Jose Couso, 37. Reuters identified its injured employees as Paul Pasquale of Britain, Samia Nakhoul of Lebanon and Iraqi photographer Faleh Kheiber. Doctors treating them said their injuries were not life threatening.