Israeli Soldiers Assault, Strip, Tear-Gas 2 Reuters Journalists

Reuters said the cameramen were trying to report on the killing of a Palestinian teenager in the West Bank

Israeli soldiers beat two Reuters journalists, forced them to strip down to their underwear, then fired off tear gas in front of them, Reuters said Thursday.

Getty ImagesTwo Palestinian journalists working for local news organizations — including the satellite station affiliated with the Gaza-based Hamas, al-Aqsa TV, which last month Israeli spokesmen labeled propagandists — also were stopped and forced to the ground.

The assault occurred Wednesday evening in the southern West Bank city of Hebron as the Reuters cameramen — who drove a marked television van and wore blue flak jackets emblazoned with "Press" on the front — tried to cross a checkpoint where a Palestinian teenager had just been shot dead by an Israeli border guard.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defense Force told Reuters the regional brigade has ordered an investigation into the incident but withheld further information until the investigation is complete.

Reuters cameramen Yousri Al Jamal and Ma'amoun Wazwaz said a foot patrol stopped them and forced them to exit their vehicle. The soldiers then punched them and struck them with the butts of their guns, they said.

Reuters said the IDF patrol accused them of working for B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights organization that chronicles abuses in the occupied West Bank. The soldiers prevented the journalists from producing their official ID papers, forced them to strip down to their underwear and, along with the Palestinian journalists, kneel on the road with their hands behind their heads, the news agency said.

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Then, Reuters said one of the solders dropped a canister of tear gas between the four men, then ran off with the IDF patrol. The journalists rushed into their cars, which was filling with tear gas. Jamal and Wazwaz were only able to drive about 200 meters before they were overcome, Reuters reported, and when they got out of their van, the soldiers fired more tear gas in their direction.

Wazwaz was taken to the hospital and released later that night.

Reuters said the soldiers took two gas masks and a video camera from their car. The undamaged camera was found on the side of the road not far away.

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"We deplore the mistreatment of our journalists and have registered our extreme dismay with the Israeli military authorities," Stephen J. Adler, editor-in-chief of Reuters News, said in a statement.

The incident the journalists were trying to cover occurred Wednesday night when Muhammad al-Salameh, 17, was shot dead close to his house in the heart of Hebron on  amid rioting between residents and border guards at a nearby checkpoint. Israeli police said he had pulled out a gun, which was later found to be a toy.

This is the latest incident of the IDF facing accusations of inflicting violence on journalists.

During the brief conflict in Gaza last month, the IDF was criticized by press freedom groups for targeting buildings that housed international reporters.

In one bombing, reporters from Sky News, German ARD, Saudi Arabia's Al Arabiya, Beirut-based al Quds and other television news outlets had set up shop in two buildings struck by IDF missiles. A reporter in one of the buildings lost his leg.

"Hamas took a civilian building and used it for its own needs. So the journalists … were serving as human shields for Hamas," an Israeli spokeswoman said in a statement following that incident.

Days later, Israeli explosives struck a building in Gaza housing the offices of Agence France-Presse, the French wire service.

Last year, Israel slipped to 92nd place on a the press freedom index compiled each year by Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom NGO, placing it well below war-torn countries like Sierra Leone and Croatia, where organized crime groups have assassinated reporters.