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3 scribes killed by US troops in Baghdad

A US tank fired at a downtown Baghdad hotel housing hundreds of journalists on Tuesday.

india Updated: Apr 09, 2003 02:26 IST

An American tank fired at a downtown Baghdad hotel housing hundreds of journalists on Tuesday, killing two cameramen and wounding three other journalists.

A third journalist was killed less than a kilometreaway when an Al-Jazeera television office was struck in a US bombing run, the network said.

US Central Command in Doha, Qatar, said in a statement that in both incidents, US forces came under "significant" fire first. At the Palestine Hotel, one of two US tanks on the nearby al-Jumhuriya bridge fired on the hotel as dozens of journalists stood on balconies taking pictures.

The shell hit balconies on the 14th and 15th floors of the 18-story building, spraying glass and shrapnel into a corner suite of the Reuters news agency. Journalists at the hotel, located just off Firdos Square on the east bank of the Tigris River, said they saw no sign of shooting from the hotel before the tank opened fire.

Frightened reporters in flak vests wrapped wounded colleagues in blankets and rushed them to cars headed to the hospital.. "We are at war," Maj Gen Stanley McChrystal, vice director of joint operations for the US joint chiefs of staff, said in Washington. "Our forces came under fire; they exercised their inherent right of self defense."

Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clark said she had been approached by many news organizations wanting to get their reporters into Baghdad. "Baghdad is not a safe place," she said she told them. "You should not be there."

A spokeswoman for the Reuters news agency said Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed at the hotel and three other staff members injured. Spanish television network Telecinco said cameraman Jose Couso, 37, died during surgery. Faleh Kheibar, a Reuters photographer, said he was trying to take a picture of a U.S. helicopter hovering over Baghdad when the shell hit Reuters' 15th floor suite.

"I changed my place just seconds before the blast," he said. He was wounded by shrapnel to his forehead and left cheek. Inside the suite, blood and damaged equipment were strewn across the floor. The others injured were Paul Pasquale of Britain and Samia Nakhoul of Lebanon, Reuters said. Doctors said their injuries were not life-threatening.

Earlier, a US bombing run struck the Al-Jazeera office in a residential area on the west bank of the Tigris. Jordanian reporter Tareq Ayyoub was killed, the Qatar-based network said. A nearby Abu Dhabi TV office was damaged by a tank shell but no one was injured.

Ayyoub's widow, Dima Tahboub, speaking with Al-Jazeera by telephone from Amman, appealed to God "to accept him as a martyr." "Clearly the war, and all its confusion, has come to the heart of Baghdad," said Reuters editor in chief Geert Linnebank.

"But the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing US troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad." Journalists held a candlelight vigil for their slain colleagues outside the Palestine on Tuesday evening. Shelling could be heard in the distance, Al-Jazeera reported.

First Published: Apr 09, 2003 02:26 IST