GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip, (AP) -Israeli aircraft fired two missiles early Sunday at an armored car belonging to the Reuters news agency, wounding five people, including two cameramen, Palestinian witnesses and hospital officials said.
The Israeli army said it did not realize the car’s passengers were journalists and only attacked because the vehicle was driving in a suspicious manner near Israeli troops in the middle of a combat zone.
Two Hamas militants were killed in separate airstrikes, officials said.
The airstrike on the journalists’ car came as Israeli soldiers backed by two dozen tanks, two bulldozers, helicopters and drone planes moved into an area just inside the Gaza Strip near the Karni crossing, witnesses and Palestinian security officials said.
The army said the troops were searching for explosives planted by Palestinian militants alongside the border fence and for tunnels under the border. After the operation began, groups of militants repeatedly gathered to try to attack the soldiers, the army and witnesses said.
The Reuters cameraman, Fadel Shama’a, 23, and Sabah Hamida, 25, who worked for a local television company, had the doors open and were about to get out of the armored vehicle in the nearby Shajaiyeh neighborhood to film the raid when it was struck by the missiles, according to Shamas Odeh, chief of Reuters TV in Gaza.
The cameramen, along with three bystanders, were injured with shrapnel wounds and all five were to undergo surgery, hospital officials said.
The front seats of the car were covered in blood and shrapnel had ripped up much of the inside of the vehicle. One of the bulletproof windows was completely destroyed.
The white sport utility vehicle was emblazoned with the Reuters logo and had “TV” and “Press” written on it in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
“This is a cold-blooded crime,” said Mohammed Dawdi, head of the local journalists union.
Capt. Noa Meir, an army spokeswoman, said the vehicle was the only one in the combat area, was driving suspiciously and came near Israeli forces during the nighttime raid.
“That’s why it was targeted. It was seen as a threat,” she said. “There were no clear TV marks (on the car). At least we didn’t see one.”
“It’s unfortunate when journalists get hurt, but that is not the intention,” Meir added.
However, the area was an active battlefield and the reporters should not have been there, she said, adding that three Hamas militants attacked soldiers from the same spot 10 minutes after the airstrike.
During the raid early Sunday, aircraft repeatedly fired missiles into fields where Palestinian militants were gathering on the edge of Shajaiyeh. Rescue officials said one Hamas militant was killed, and Hamas reported the death of a second.
Ambulance drivers reported coming under fire from Israeli helicopters as they tried to retrieve the body of the first militant killed. The army said it was checking the report.
The army also told residents in three nearby buildings to evacuate their houses as bulldozers cleared land near the border, witnesses said. Soldiers also took over some rooftops and searched several houses, they said.
Israel has stepped up raids and airstrikes in Gaza over the past two months as part of a wide-scale offensive that began after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid.
In the West Bank, Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen traded heavy fire during a standoff at a fugitives’ hideout Saturday, and doctors said a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed.
Twenty Palestinians were wounded in the clashes in the West Bank city of Nablus, the doctors said.
The Nablus standoff began early Saturday when troops surrounded a four-story apartment building where the army said two Palestinian fugitives were hiding. Troops called on the fugitives to surrender, but by mid-afternoon, they were still inside the building.
The army brought in bulldozers which started chipping away at the walls of the building and destroyed a water tank. At one point, the building came under heavy automatic fire by the army.
The troops also fired at a neighboring house, where gunmen were seen shooting at the force.
Bulldozers and army vehicles driving through the neighborhood were showered with stones.
The residents of the building were ordered to leave and some were questioned, the witnesses said. Troops also searched neighboring buildings, witnesses said, and soldiers carrying guns were seen moving between houses.The neighborhood appeared deserted and heavy gunshots were exchanged.
The army said Palestinians fired at the troops and in two cases also hurled explosive devices.
The wanted militants belong to the Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Fatah. They are believed to be explosive experts.
Late Saturday, the army pulled out of Nablus without arresting anyone.