Reuters, Tele 5 Cameramen Die in Iraq Hotel Blast
Tue April 08, 2003 10:22 AM ET
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A U.S. tank fired on a Baghdad hotel packed with foreign journalists on Tuesday, killing two cameramen, one from Reuters, the other from Spanish television.
A third journalist, from Al-Jazeera, was killed in what the Arab television channel called a U.S. air strike on its office.
Three other Reuters staff, a reporter, a photographer and technician, were wounded in the hotel shelling.
Reporters saw the American tank point its turret gun at the Palestine Hotel, home to most international media in the Iraqi capital. Seconds later a single shell slammed into the Reuters office on the 15th floor with a deafening crash.
The U.S. military said it had been fired on first from the hotel but journalists there questioned the claim.
The military said it regretted any casualties but said Baghdad was a war zone and safeguards could not be given.
Reuters' Warsaw-based Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, died at the hospital. The international news organization's Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank said the loss was "so unnecessary" and raised questions about U.S. troops' judgment.
Spain's Tele 5 (Telecinco) television said Jose Couso, 37, also died in hospital after being hit in the jaw and leg.
Lebanese-born Samia Nakhoul, Reuters' Gulf bureau chief based in Dubai, and Iraqi photographer Faleh Kheiber suffered facial and head wounds and concussion. Television satellite dish coordinator Paul Pasquale, a Briton, suffered leg wounds.
On a grim day for journalists covering the war, al-Jazeera television said its reporter-producer Tarek Ayoub died in a separate U.S. strike that hit its offices. A day earlier an Iraqi strike killed a German and Spanish reporter near Baghdad.
A thin column of smoke rose from the high-rise Palestine on the eastern banks of the Tigris river after the hit. Glass shards from hotel windows fell to the ground.
Journalists carried wounded colleagues out on blood-stained bedsheets. Some were driven away to hospital.
A Reuters correspondent telephoning from a lower floor of the hotel said: "There was just a huge bang. The walls shook."
U.S. tanks, artillery and warplanes had been pounding Iraqi forces all morning as the fight for Baghdad came right into the city center and approached the Palestine hotel.
Iraqis fired back with some artillery and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG). Americans said they were shot at from the hotel.
"A tank was receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round," General Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, told Reuters on the outskirts of Baghdad.
But reporters at the scene disputed this account.
"I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel," British Sky television's correspondent David Chater said.
"In all the three weeks I have worked from this hotel I have not heard a single shot fired from here and I have not seen a single armed person enter the hotel," Swiss television correspondent Ulrich Tilgner said in a report from the hotel.
"FIRED ON FROM HOTEL"
U.S. Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, spokesman for Central Command war headquarters in the Gulf state of Qatar, said:
"Reports indicate the coalition force operating near the hotel took fire from the lobby of the hotel and returned fire."
But when asked why the tank hit a floor so high up, he said: "I may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from."
He told a briefing Iraqi fighters were using all kinds of civilian buildings like the hotel for cover as they fought:
"When we potentially take fire from those locations, decisions have to be made at a very low tactical level.
"This coalition does not target journalists so anything that has happened...would always be considered as an accident."
He said: "Baghdad is a dangerous location."
Hundreds of journalists are in Iraq to cover the U.S.-led war to topple President Saddam Hussein, and are working from central Baghdad, with U.S. and British forces, or on their own.
Before Tuesday, at least six journalists had been killed covering the war that began on March 20. At least two others had died of other causes during their work in Iraq.
Linnebank said Reuters was devastated by the death of Protsyuk, who leaves a widow Lidia and eight-year-old son Denis.
Protsyuk, who had worked in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, was one of Reuters' most experienced television journalists and part of an 18-member Reuters team in Baghdad.
"Taras's death, and the injuries sustained by the others, were so unnecessary," the editor-in-chief said in a statement.
"Clearly the war, and all its confusion, have come to the heart of Baghdad, but the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad," Linnebank said.
Reuters lost its first war correspondent in 1885 when Frank Roberts died from typhoid fever covering a British colonial war in Sudan. The last Reuters journalists to die in a war were Harry Burton and Azizullah Haidari, shot dead in an ambush on November 19, 2001 as they drove to the Afghan capital Kabul.
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