Israeli soldiers 'assault two Reuters cameramen'

Israeli soldiers in Hebron (13 December 2012)
Tensions have been running high in Hebron after repeated clashes between soldiers and youths

Reuters news agency has accused Israeli soldiers of hitting two of its cameramen and forcing them to strip in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Yousri al-Jamal and Mamoun Wazwaz said they were stopped near a checkpoint where a Palestinian teenager had been shot dead by an Israeli border guard.

The soldiers then allegedly struck them with their rifles and made them strip before letting off a tear-gas canister.

The Israeli military said it had ordered an investigation.

Tensions have been running high in Hebron in the past week following repeated clashes between soldiers and stone-throwing youths.

Hebron is home to about 180,000 Palestinians and some 500 Jewish settlers who live in the centre of the city, guarded by Israeli troops.

Israeli police said the teenager was shot dead on Thursday after he attacked an Israeli border guard and threatened him with what turned out to be a metal toy pistol.

'Assault and humiliation'

Reuters said its cameramen had driven towards the scene of the shooting in a car which was clearly marked "TV". They were also both wearing blue flak jackets with "Press" on the front.

After being stopped by an Israeli military foot patrol, they were forced to leave the vehicle and struck with the butts of the soldiers' rifles, the cameramen said.

The cameramen said the soldiers did not let them produce their official media ID papers and forced them to strip down to their underwear, making them kneel on the road with their hands behind their heads.

Two other Palestinian journalists working for local news organisations were also stopped and forced to the ground, they said.

One of the soldiers then dropped a tear-gas canister between the men and the Israeli patrol ran away, having taken a video camera and their gas masks, the Reuters cameramen added.

More tear gas was allegedly fired as the men tried to escape. Mr Wazwaz was overwhelmed by the fumes and had to be taken to hospital.

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

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it took the allegations seriously.

"The regional brigade commander was ordered to open an investigation," spokeswoman Col Avital Leibovich told Reuters in an email.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel said it condemned in the strongest terms the alleged assault.

"Press freedom is the signal of a civilised nation. The assault and humiliation of reporters trying to do their work is unacceptable and falls far, far below the standards that the IDF says it adheres to," it added.