JERUSALEM, April 15 (Reuters) - International media organisations urged the Israeli army on Thursday to do more to help improve safety for journalists, two years after its troops killed a Reuters cameraman in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli Defence Forces said they continued to update training to enable soldiers to distinguish civilians, including journalists, from enemy combatants, and that they were committed to maintaining dialogue with news organisations on safety.
The Jerusalem-based Foreign Press Association said it hoped for more IDF cooperation to help prevent a repeat of the killing of Fadel Shana on April 16, 2008. FPA chairman Conny Mus said:
So far we cannot report positive results with regard to safety for journalists in Gaza. But we will continue to seek solutions for a better understanding on this matter.
Shana, 24, was killed along with eight other Palestinian civilians when a tank fired a shell packed with flechettes, or small darts, at him. An IDF investigation concluded the soldiers thought Shana's camera might be a rocket and were right to fire.
Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich, a spokeswoman for the IDF, said there had been no reason to review that finding. But the army had introduced new training, including video simulators for combat troops, that aimed to prevent civilian casualties.
The IDF is always seeking new technical solutions to train soldiers to help them differentiate between combatants and non-combatants, Leibovich said. She also noted that flechette shells were being phased out by Israel.
Several Reuters news staff have been killed in recent years by troops -- notably by U.S. forces in Iraq -- who have said they could not tell video or stills cameras from weapons.
The news agency has urged armed forces to observe obligations under international law that troops distinguish between combatants and civilians -- including journalists.
We have taken steps to improve the safety of our staff but we are still seeking active engagement from the Israeli army on the issue of training so that journalists can go about their vital work in Gaza and elsewhere, said Mark Thompson, Reuters managing editor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Reuters is also concerned about the lack of transparency in military investigations. And in the case of Fadel Shana, it has said it is troubled by the conclusion that troops were justified in opening fire even though army lawyers found they could not tell whether the journalist was pointing a camera or a rocket.
Many Palestinians in Gaza, citing evidence that Israeli tank sights offer high magnification, question assertions that the troops could not see Shana was a journalist. Palestinian human rights group Ad-Dameer said: (We) call on the international community to pursue those who committed this crime, and those who ordered it, and bring them before an international court.
Based on current information, Reuters sees no further legal avenues open in Israel to challenge the findings or to seek further information -- including on why recordings of the tank crew's conversations were not available to investigators.
Reuters, part of New York-based information provider Thomson Reuters, is also seeking clarity from the Pentagon about an incident in 2007 when US helicopters killed a number of Iraqis in Baghdad, including a Reuters photographer and his assistant.
A US army investigation at the time concluded that the civilians were killed during a battle with insurgents. However, a gunsight video of the incident, leaked this month, has raised questions on the US troops' efforts to identify their targets.