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Israel: Deadly bullet could be militant's

By JOSHUA BRILLIANT

TEL AVIV, Israel, May 3 (UPI) -- Israeli officials on Saturday said they ordered a forensic test to help determine whether an Israeli or a Palestinian bullet killed a British video journalist in the southern Gaza Strip shortly before midnight Friday.

The British Foreign Office has called for an investigation into the incident, as have local press organizations. Yehuda Hiss, the head of the government-run Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv, invited the British Embassy to send one of its specialists to supervise the autopsy.

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James Miller, 43, who worked for Frost Bite, a British company that produced documentary films, apparently sought to film a house the Israelis were about to demolish. According to footage filmed by another television crew, Miller was hit immediately after a member of his crew shouted in the darkness, "We are British journalists."

Saera Shah, a freelance producer for Frost Bite, told United Press International shortly after the incident that the soldiers had clearly seen Miller filming near the borders. "What the Israeli soldiers did is a real crime because they killed James in cold blood," she said.

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Israel said Saturday that journalists who enter in combat zones assume the risk of their work.

The shooting took place about 11:30 p.m. Friday in Rafah, a Palestinian refugee camp turned town on the edge of the tiny swath of Israel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. It has been one of the tensest areas of the Palestinian territories since the intifada, or uprising, erupted in September 2000. Israelis often stage operations there in an effort to stop both militancy and cross-border smuggling operations that they say bring weapons and black-market products into the Palestinian territories.

Initial reports said Miller was shot in the neck, but an Israeli military source Saturday quoted the doctor who pronounced the cameraman's death as saying the bullet penetrated the man right shoulder from the back. A Foreign Ministry official maintained that if he were indeed shot in the back, Miller may have been hit by Palestinian fire. The cameraman's position when he was shot is as yet unclear.

"At the moment it is impossible to determine who fired," a military source told UPI.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said Miller and an Associated Press crew had been in a structure in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, a few dozen meters from a building that was to be demolished.

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At about 7 p.m. soldiers found a smugglers' tunnel from Egypt and under Israeli lines to a house in Rafah. Soldiers prepared the building for demolition and at least three times into the late evening came under light arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades. The soldiers returned fire, the spokesman said.

Earlier, press reports in Israel quoted Israeli and Palestinian eyewitness saying only an anti-tank missile was launched and Israeli troops shot back toward the source. "James Miller was apparently hit during that exchange," IDF spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal told the Israeli daily Haaretz in a report published Saturday. "The Israeli military expresses sorrow at a civilian death, but it must be stressed that a cameraman who knowingly enters a combat zone, especially at night, endangers himself."

The AP film aired Saturday showed the crew went into the dark, moonless, night in the town. One waved a white flag. Someone shouted, a bullet rang, and then someone called out again: "We are British journalists." A second shot rang immediately and Miller was hit.

A military spokesman who spoke to UPI on condition of anonymity said the soldiers did not see or hear the crew until a woman shouted, after Miller was hit. "It was pitch dark. Nobody saw them," the spokesman said.

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The army sent over a British-made Centurion tank that was reconfigured to evacuate wounded, then brought Miller to an army post where the doctor pronounced him dead.

A spokesman for the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, Neil Wigan, told United Press International they were asking "for a full and transparent investigation by the Israelis."

The Foreign Press Association, which represents journalists covering Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, said in a statement it was "deeply concerned over the recent increase in the killing and wounding of noncombatants by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza, and call on the military to address this terrible problem seriously and not sweep it under the rug with general statements about the dangers inherent in war zones.

"The military has a duty to avoid harming non-combatants. Yet in recent weeks we have seen the killings of two journalists working for foreign outlets. "We are still waiting to hear results of the investigation of the April 19 killing in Nablus of APTN's Nazeh Darwazeh, shot in the head, apparently by an Israeli soldier, while wearing bright clothing that clearly identified him as a journalist," the FPA added. Darwazeh, a Palestinian cameraman, was shot and killed in the West Bank town of Nablus while filming clashes between Israel and the Palestinians.

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The statement thus rejected the Israeli argument that Miller knowingly entered a fighting zone and thus the risk was his own. It quoted witnesses as relating that "Miller and two colleagues were filming and waving a white flag as a tank opened fire. If true, that would again suggest reckless behavior on the part of the troops who opened fire."

In March, an Israeli bulldozer crushed a 23-year-old American peace activist in Rafah who was trying to protect Palestinian homes there. The Israelis said the driver of the armed bulldozer did not see her. Two weeks later, a British activist was wounded in the head by Israeli gunfire.

(Saud Abu Ramadan contributed to this report from Gaza.)

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