US Fires On Hotel, Kills
Reuters, Tele 5 Cameramen


BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A U.S. tank fired on a Baghdad hotel packed with foreign journalists on Tuesday, killing two cameramen, one from Reuters, the other from Spanish television.
A third journalist, from al-Jazeera, was killed in what the Arab television channel called a U.S. air strike on its office.
Three other Reuters staff, a reporter, a photographer and a technician, were wounded in the hotel shelling.
Reporters saw the American tank point its turret gun at the Palestine Hotel, home to most international media in the Iraqi capital. Seconds later a single shell slammed into the Reuters office on the 15th floor with a deafening crash.
The U.S. military said it had been fired upon first from the hotel, but journalists there questioned the claim.
The military said it regretted any casualties but said Baghdad was a war zone and safeguards could not be given.
Reuters Warsaw-based Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, died at a hospital. The international news organization's editor-in-chief Geert Linnebank said the loss was "so unnecessary" and raised questions about U.S. troops' judgment.
Linnebank said Reuters was devastated by the death of Protsyuk, who leaves a widow Lidia and eight-year-old son Denis.
Spain's Tele 5 (Telecinco) television said Jose Couso, 37, also died in hospital after being hit in the jaw and leg. He leaves a wife and two children.
Lebanese-born Samia Nakhoul, Reuters Gulf bureau chief based in Dubai, and Iraqi photographer Faleh Kheiber were wounded in the face and head. Television satellite dish coordinator Paul Pasquale, a Briton, suffered leg wounds.
On a grim day for journalists covering the war, Jazeera said its reporter-producer Tarek Ayoub died in an earlier U.S. strike that hit its offices. A day before, an Iraqi strike killed a German and Spanish reporter near Baghdad.
Hundreds of journalists are in Iraq to cover the U.S.-led war to topple President Saddam Hussein, and are working from central Baghdad, with U.S. and British forces, or on their own.
The deaths raised to 10 the number of people killed while working for the media since war began on March 20. The 10 include a translator for the BBC. Two more journalists died of other causes in Iraq.
Abu Dhabi television, which like Jazeera has its own office in Baghdad, called on U.S. forces to let its 25 journalists leave the building it said was encircled by tanks as night fell.
A thin column of smoke rose from the high-rise Palestine on the east bank of the Tigris river after the hit. Glass shards from hotel windows fell to the ground.
Journalists carried wounded colleagues out on blood-stained bedsheets. Some were driven away to hospital.
A Reuters correspondent telephoning from a lower floor of the hotel said: "There was just a huge bang. The walls shook."
U.S. tanks, artillery and warplanes had been pounding Iraqi forces all morning as the fight for Baghdad came right into the city center and approached the Palestine Hotel.
Iraqis fired back with some artillery and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).
Central Command, the U.S. war headquarters in the Gulf state of Qatar, said forces received "significant enemy fire" from the hotel and returned fire in self-defense. Reporters at the scene disputed this account.
"A tank was receiving small arms fire and RPG fire from the hotel and engaged the target with one tank round," General Buford Blount, commander of the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, told Reuters on the outskirts of Baghdad.
British Sky television's correspondent David Chater said: "I never heard a single shot coming from any of the area around here, certainly not from the hotel."
Swiss television correspondent Ulrich Tilgner, in a report from the hotel, said: "In all the three weeks I have worked from this hotel I have not heard a single shot fired from here and I have not seen a single armed person enter the hotel."
Spain said it had asked for an explanation of the incident and had been told by U.S. commanders that they had warned journalists 48 hours beforehand that Iraqi military commanders were using the building for meetings. Correspondents at the hotel said they were unaware of any such warning.
Central Command spokesman Brigadier General Vincent Brooks said U.S. forces had been fired on from the hotel lobby but, when asked why the tank hit a floor so high up, added: "I may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from."
He said Iraqis used all kinds of civilian buildings for cover and commanders on the spot had to decide how to respond.
"This coalition does not target journalists so anything that has happened...would always be considered as an accident," he said. "Baghdad is a dangerous location."
Japanese journalist Kazutaka Sato had been next door when the shell hit, and rushed in to find Protsyuk.
"I saw the cameraman lying down on the balcony with a camera standing upright," he told Reuters in Tokyo by telephone.
"With a couple of other journalists, I put him on a blanket and carried him down to the ground floor and put him in a car."
"I believe he was shooting the scene of two U.S. tanks west of the Republican (Jumhuriya) Bridge," he said. "His belly was torn up and there was a lot of blood there."
Protsyuk, who had worked in Chechnya, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, was one of Reuters' most experienced television journalists and part of an 18-member Reuters team in Baghdad.
"Taras's death, and the injuries sustained by the others, were so unnecessary," Linnebank, the Reuters editor-in-chief, said in a statement.
"Clearly the war, and all its confusion, have come to the heart of Baghdad, but the incident nonetheless raises questions about the judgment of the advancing U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad," Linnebank said.
A Central Command spokeswoman told CNN it was unclear if the tank commander had known the hotel was full of journalists.
"Whether or not the person in that tank...knew that building specifically was a journalists' haven, I don't know," Major Rumi Nielson-Green said.



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