Israel deliberately targeted Hamas-run media installations in its bombing campaign on Gaza and is practicing media censorship, according to international journalist and human rights groups, which called Monday for Israel to allow journalists and human rights monitors access to Gaza.
The Israeli army has targeted several Palestinian media installations including al-Aqsa TV and Al-Resalah newspaper, which were destroyed by Israeli bombing on Dec. 28 and Jan. 3 respectively, according to the non-governmental Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).
Two Palestinian journalists, photographer Hamza Shahin and Omar Silawi, have been killed by Israeli attacks in the past two weeks according to the Press Emblem Campaign (PEC).
Several groups including Human Rights Watch called on Israel to allow journalists and human rights monitors access to Gaza saying their presence could discourage abuse by warring parties and help save lives.
"Journalists and rights monitors should be allowed into Gaza to investigate and report on the conduct of both sides," said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Israel's excessive restrictions on access to Gaza only end up impeding this deterrent effect and placing civilians at greater risk."
A Geneva-based press group, which fights for better protection of journalists in conflict zones, condemned the journalists’ killing and called upon Israel to implement U.N. Security Council resolution 1738, which forbids any attacks against journalists or media installations.
"The current attacks against Palestinian journalists remind the media community of the attacks that were committed by Israel against Lebanese media in the July-August war 2006," the press group said, referring to the conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah fighters.
It called for an independent international probe to look into alleged rights violations during the conflict.
"This deliberate attack is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law. The Geneva Conventions forbid attacks against media outlets, including those putting out propaganda, as long as they are not being used for military purposes,” said the Doha Center for Media Freedom. “That means that as long as Hamas does not use its TV channel headquarters as a military base, Al-Aqsa cannot be considered a military target".
The channel, started by Hamas in 2005, carried on broadcasting from a mobile studio.
Al-Aqsa spokesman Mohamed Soraya told the Doha Center that at the time no employees were on the premises, which were destroyed in the raids. "We plan to continue broadcasting to condemn Israel's crime," he said. "They can go on attacking us, but they will not silence us".
HRW urged the Israeli government to abide by an Israeli high court ruling on Dec. 31 and allow foreign media into Gaza.
The Israeli High Court ruled that the Israeli government should allow 12 foreign journalists into Gaza. The government said it will allow eight journalists into Gaza every time it opens the border at the Erez crossing, but so far the crossing has remained closed to entry. The decision by the High Court came in response to a petition by the Israeli Foreign Press Association, which represents more than 400 members from the world's leading international print and electronic media.
The association called the ban "an unprecedented restriction of press freedom" on Israel's part.
On Nov. 21, 22 executives from the world's major news organizations, including the Associated Press, BBC, CNN, and Reuters, sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, complaining about the "prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media."
PEC denounced the military censorship it said journalists were subjected to in Israel "which questions their ability to cover objectively the conflict from the Israeli side."