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    US condemned after journalists killed by tank


    THE American military came under fierce criticism yesterday over the deaths of three journalists, killed after apparently being hit by fire from US forces.

    The International Federation of Journalists called for an inquiry after the journalists died in two separate incidents in Baghdad yesterday.

    Two cameramen, one who worked for the Reuters news agency and the other for Spain’s Telecinco, died when a shell hit the Palestine Hotel, where most of the foreign press corps is staying. Witnesses said they saw a US tank fire the shell.

    A third journalist was killed when the offices of al-Jazeera TV were hit during a US airstrike.

    The 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel was hit at about noon local time (8am GMT).

    A Sky TV reporter, David Chater, reported: "One of the tanks had its barrel pointed up at the building. We went inside and there was an almighty crash, a huge explosion that shook the hotel."

    Television pictures showed two people being carried on blankets through the lobby of the hotel, as journalists - some visibly shaken - rushed out of the building clutching their equipment.

    Reuters said a Ukrainian cameraman, Taras Protsyuk, died and a reporter, a photographer, and a technician were wounded when the building was hit.

    The Spanish television network, Telecinco, said a cameraman, Jose Couso, died during surgery for injuries sustained to his leg, chest and jaw.

    US officials claimed that a sniper was operating in the hotel. However, none of the 250 or so journalists staying there heard any shots fired from the building.

    Initially, US military officials expressed regret at the incident.

    "A tank was receiving small arms fire ... from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round," General Buford Blount, commander of the US 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, said.

    A Pentagon spokesman conveyed condolences to the families of the dead men, adding: "The loss of any civilian life is tragic. We take all measures to prevent the loss of civilian life. We don’t target journalists."

    Doubts were later raised about whether any US tanks were in a position to hit the hotel, but the admission has nonetheless prompted Spanish defence ministry officials to say that Madrid would demand an explanation from Washington.

    Greece - which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union - condemned the attack on the Palestine Hotel and said it would ask the US to guarantee the safety of journalists.

    In a separate incident, al-Jazeera said its correspondent, Jordanian Tareq Ayoub, died and a cameraman was injured when a missile hit its office, virtually destroying it.

    Mr Ayoub was recording an eye-witness account of the fighting between Iraqi and US forces on the west bank of the River Tigris at the time. US officials said the building was struck by mistake.

    "It is something we all regret. But I don’t believe that it is possible that it was deliberate," a US State Department spokesman, Nabil Khoury, said.

    But the Reporters Without Borders pressure group said al-Jazeera, the most-watched channel in the Arab world, had received assurances from the US government that it would not be bombed.

    The network said it had been careful to inform the Americans of the exact location of its offices and demanded an inquiry into the attack.

    Abu Dhabi television said its Baghdad bureau was also hit by US bombing.

    Lara Marlowe is a correspondent with the Irish Times
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