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Tue., Jul. 18, 2006

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Lebanon: 7 Media Workers Injured in 48 Hours of Fighting

SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 15 (OneWorld) - At least seven media workers have been injured in less than 48 hours of fighting in Lebanon--all of them hurt by the Israeli military, a leading media watchdog group said Thursday.

According to Reporters Without Borders the count includes three employees of the Lebanese satellite channel New TV and four workers at the Hizbollah-controlled TV network al-Manar.

"So many journalists have been injured in the very early stages of this conflict, and we want to avoid dozens of journalists being injured or killed in the coming days and weeks," the organization's Washington representative Lucie Morillon told OneWorld.

"The more journalists that are injured the more difficult it is for us to know what's going on," she added.

Especially troubling to the watchdog group is the appearance that the injured news reporters were deliberately targeted by Israeli forces.

The three New TV workers--reporter Bassel Al-Aridi, cameraman Abd Khayyat, and assistant cameraman Ziad Sarwan--were injured when their vehicle was hit by shots fired from an Israeli helicopter as they crossed a bridge in the south of the country, where they had gone to cover the fighting. The attack took place while Israel was bombing bridges and other communications infrastructure.

New TV said despite being specifically demarcated as "press," the agency's vehicle sustained more damage than any other, "which suggests to us that it was a targeted attack against our vehicle."

While it has yet to comment on the injured New TV journalists, the State of Israel has admitted to specifically targeting the offices of Al-Manar, the television station owned and operated by Hizbollah.

Hizbollah's armed wing captured two Israeli soldiers during the week and most observers believe the group was behind more than 100 rocket attacks on Israel.

Three employees with Al-Manar sustained injuries Thursday when its premises in suburban Beirut were struck by a missile during an Israeli air raid. The station said its antenna was not destroyed and broadcasting was not interrupted.

"The Al-Manar station has for many years served as the main tool for propaganda and incitement by Hizbollah, and has also helped the organization recruit people into its ranks," the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

But media and human rights groups say Israel has no right to target Al-Manar because it doesn't like the channel's content.

"While Al-Manar may serve a propaganda function for Hizbollah, it does not appear based on a monitoring of its broadcasts today to be serving any discernible military function," the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement.

Israeli officials have refused to rule out attacks on any area of Lebanon, however. In addition to bombing Hizbollah bases, and the home of the head of the group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the Israeli military has bombed Beiruit International Airport, imposed an air and sea blockade on Lebanon, and hit the main highway between Beirut and Damascus, virtually cutting off the country from the outside world.

"Nothing is safe in Lebanon, as simple as that," Israeli Brigadier General Dan Halutz told reporters in Jerusalem. Halutz said even the central Beirut could be targeted if Hezbollah rockets continue to hit northern Israel.

"In terms of international law there is such a thing as a legitimate military retaliation," disputed Yifat Suskind of the human rights group MADRE. "Israel was attacked by Hizbollah Wednesday morning. That was an irresponsible act and an illegal act and the targeting of Israeli civilians is a grave violation of international law. Those same laws also criminalize the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip and Lebanon."

"It is illegal to target civilians," she concluded, "whether one of the strongest militaries like Israel is doing it or whether an armed group like Hamas or Hizbollah."

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