Lieberman Accused Palestinian Photographer Killed in Gaza of Operating Drone Despite Lack of Evidence

'I don’t know who he is, a photographer, not a photographer – whoever operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself,' said Avigdor Lieberman

Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja, who was killed by Israeli gunfire, April 2018.

Contrary to an earlier statament by Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces said they are not aware of any use of drones by Palestinians during last Friday’s demonstration near the fence along the Gaza border.

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Speaking about Yaser Murtaja, a 30-year-old photographer who was shot and killed during the protests, Lieberman had claimed that he was operating a drone above IDF soldiers when he was shot.

“I don’t know who he is, a photographer, not a photographer – whoever operates drones above IDF soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself,” said Lieberman, speaking about Murtaja’s death.

A military investigation into the matter, however, is yet to find any evidence that Murtaja had operated a drone. No reports were received of drones used in a way that could endanger soldiers at any of the focal points of the demonstration on Friday.

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Photographs and video clips of Murtaja were released by Palestinians, but do not show a drone. Murtaja is seen wearing a blue vest that said “Press” on it in English when he was wounded. The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate said Murtaja was standing about 350 meters from the border fence when he was shot. Murtaja was allegedly known for taking aerial photographs using drones, even though available evidence suggests he was leaving that aside on Friday.

The IDF regards the operation of drones with gravity. Drones flying near to Israeli soldiers or crossing the Israeli border are considered to be critical threats. The military considers it to be similar to an attempted terrorist attack or the penetration of any other aerial vehicle into Israel territory. The use of drones by Palestinians in the demonstrations is always likely to be met with a harsh response from the IDF. In response to the incident, however, the Israeli army expressed concern. “The IDF does not intend to shoot at journalists, and the circumstances in which journalists were supposedly injured by fire from IDF forces are not known and are being investigated,” it said in a statement.

Besides the slain Yaser Murtaja, four other journalists were injured by live fire during the demonstrations on Friday, one of them critically.

The IDF Spokesman did not mention reports on the use of drones.

Haaretz has not yet received a response from Lieberman on the matter.

Lieberman also said that “we’ve seen dozens of cases where Hamas terrorists used ambulances to go un-noticed, or dressed up as Red Crescent medical personnel or as journalists. We won’t take any chances. I think it’s clear to everyone that the IDF is the most moral army in the world.”

Following Murtaja’s death, the Union of Journalists in Israel addressed IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Saturday. “The union demands explanations regarding the shooting of journalists and the orders given to soldiers on the Gaza border pertaining to members of the press,” said a tweet on the Union’s Twitter account.

Mortally wounded Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja, 31, is evacuated during clashes with Israeli troops at the Israel-Gaza border, in the southern Gaza Strip April 6, 2018
\ IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/ REUTERS