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Subject: At Least 3 Journalists Die in Blast at Hotel

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Date Posted: April 08, 2003 5:26:28 EDT

At least three journalists, including a reporter for the Arab satellite channel Al Jazeera, were killed and several were wounded today during an American air raid and an artillery barrage in Baghdad.

The Al Jazeera reporter Tariq Ayoub, a Jordanian was standing on the roof of the station's office just after dawn, doing a live broadcast of the warfare in Baghdad when the building was hit, by two air to surface missiles, officials at Al Jazeera headquarters said.

Mr. Ayoub, in his mid-30's, was carried to a car by colleagues but died on the way to the hospital, said Jihad Ballout, a spokesman for the channel.

An Iraqi cameraman, Zouhair al-Iraqi, who had started work with the station several days ago, was wounded, Mr. Ballout said.

Two other journalists, both of them television cameramen, were killed when a United States tank fired on a Baghdad hotel where most international journalists are based, according to witnesses.

Reuters reported that one of its television cameramen Taras Protsyuk, 35, a Ukrainian national based in Warsaw died when a single shell slammed into the Reuters office on the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel. At least three other employees of the news agency were wounded.

In Madrid, officials of the Telecino Spanish television station said today that same blast fatally injured one of their cameramen, Jose Couso, 37.

Officials at United States military's Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, said they regretted the deaths of the journalists.

"This coalition does not target journalists," Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks said during the daily briefing in a response to a question about the attack on the Al Jazeera office. "We don't know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It's a dangerous place indeed."

Nabil Khoury, a State Department spokesman in Qatar, said the strike on the Al Jazeera office was a "grave mistake."

Mr. Ballout, the spokesman for Al Jazeera, said that officials of the Arab satellite channel had informed the Pentagon of the location of its Baghdad office.

In a letter on February 24 to Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary for public affairs at the Pentagon, Al Jazeera gave the co-ordinates of its building as latitude 33.19, longitude 44.24 and altitude 63 meters, Mr. Ballout said.

The letter was signed by the channel's general manager, Mohamed Jassem Al-Ali, he said. The house on the Al Kharkh Road served as working space for the six Al Jazeera reporters, as well as cameramen and technical support staff, working in Baghdad for the channel.

In the case of the attack on the Palestine Hotel, American military officials said that their forces had been fired on first from the hotel.

Gen. Buford Blount, commander of the United States Army Third Infantry Division, was quoted by Reuters shortly after the incident saying that an American tank had fired a single round at the hotel.

"The tank was receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round," the general said, referring to rocket-propelled grenades.

But some reporters challenged the military's account.

A British reporter based at the Palestine Hotel said he saw a United States tank aiming at the building before the explosion.

The reporter, David Chater of Sky Television said he did not hear any shots coming from within or around the hotel.

Mr. Chater said he was on a hotel balcony directly before the explosion and noticed the tank pointing its muzzle directly at the hotel. He said he turned away just before the blast.

"I noticed 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," he said in an on-air report, adding that he did not actually see the tank fire.

In another incident in Baghdad this morning, the office of another Arab satellite channel, Abu Dhabi Television, was hit apparently by small arms fire, as its crew filmed two American tanks positioned on a bridge over the Tigris river, the news editor of the station said.

The cameras were on the roof of the Abu Dhabi office, which is also in a villa, and is easy walking distance from the Al Jazeera house, said the editor, Nart Bouran.

The two cameras were taking live shots of the tanks on the bridge when one camera was hit and fell to the ground, Mr. Bouran said in a telephone interview from his office in Abu Dhabi.

"We took small arms fire from that direction, our correspondents left, ran away," Mr. Bouran said. A second camera was also hit. "All of a sudden we saw an incoming shell that took out our office."

Mr. Bouran said after the Al Jazeera house was hit, his crew had helped the Al Jazeera correspondent, Mr. Ayoub, into a car to go to the hospital. The Abu Dhabi correspondents and camera crew returned to their house to resume work filming the two Abrams tanks for live shots.

"We got a call from the guys that they had a feeling something nasty was going to happen," Mr. Bouran said. "A few seconds after they were hit."

He said the strike against the Abu Dhabi house was "bizarre." "It's a stand alone villa, it has always been there, it is not new," Mr. Bouran said. "I assume when you go into a sensitive area like that you know the targets."

The building had a "huge sign, Emirates Media" at the door."

Al Jazeera, the most watched television channel in the Arab world, is generally considered by the Bush administration to be hostile to the war in Iraq. But in an effort to get the American view point across to Arab viewers, the administration has made its spokesmen available for interviews. An Al Jazeera correspondent attends the daily briefings at Central Command headquarters in Doha, where the channel happens to have its head office, and the Pentagon offered Al Jazeera the opportunity for its correspondents to travel with American troops during the war.

Al Jazeera and Abu Dhabi Television were the only international media organizations to operate in their headquarters in Baghdad. Since the war started, other international media organizations moved their operations from the Ministry of Information to the Palestine Hotel, some miles away.

In this morning's news bulletin, Al Jazeera said: "We regret to inform you that our cameraman and correspondent Tarek Ayoub was killed this morning during the U.S. missile strike on our Baghdad office." The statement added: "He is a martyr."

Since the war began, Al Jazeera has given close coverage to Iraqi civilian casualties, and generally refers to them as "martyrs."

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