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Journalists Killed when U.S. Fires on Hotel

Journalists Killed when U.S. Fires on Hotel

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- An American tank fired at the Palestine Hotel, where several hundred journalists have been staying, killing two cameramen and wounding three other journalists Tuesday. U.S. officials said the tank had taken fire from the area of the hotel.

Less than a mile away, another journalist died when an al-Jazeera television office was hit from the air in a U.S. bombing run, the network said. An Abu Dhabi TV office in the area was also hit.

Asked about damage to the al-Jazeera office, Brig. Gen. Vincent said, "This coalition does not target journalists."

"We don't know every place journalists are operating on the battlefield. It's a dangerous place indeed," Brooks said.

Frightened reporters in flak vests could be seen carrying wounded colleagues to the lobby of the 18-story Palestine Hotel, where foreign reporters and camera crews have been covering the war from balconies and rooftops.

The tank shell hit balconies on the 14th and 15th floors of the hotel, spraying glass and shrapnel.

A spokeswoman for the Reuters news agency said Ukrainian cameraman Taras Protsyuk, 35, was killed there and three of its staff members were injured. Spanish television network Telecinco said its cameraman, Jose Couso, 37, hit in the leg and jaw, also died after surgery.

"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 U.S. troops who have known all along that this hotel is the main base for almost all foreign journalists in Baghdad."

Speaking at Central Command headquarters in Doha, Qatar, Brooks told reporters initially that the U.S. forces had been fired on from the hotel lobby. But he later corrected his remarks to say "I may have misspoken on exactly where the fire came from."

The tank that fired on the hotel was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division.

U.S. Army Col. David Perkins, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division's 2nd Brigade, said Iraqis fired rocket-propelled grenades at tanks from in front of the hotel, and the military, scanning the area for observation posts, saw the binocular and fired. The tanks were also taking fire from mortars.

He said the military regrets what happened and was ordering troops not to fire on the hotel, but he placed the blame squarely on Saddam Hussein.

"By militarizing these areas, Saddam is putting these people at risk," Perkins said. "The soldier's primary responsibility is to protect himself and his crew."

About 1,000 yards to the west, across the Tigris River, an earlier U.S. bombing run struck an al-Jazeera office in a residential area, the network said. The two-story house is on a road along the river that links the Information Ministry with the old palace presidential compound.

Al-Jazeera, an independent Arabic-language network, showed footage of people carrying Jordanian reporter Tareq Ayyoub to a jeep, then rushing him to the hospital, where he died. It described him as a "martyr of duty" and a "dear and loyal colleague." Television footage also showed a cameraman with his chest covered in blood, but the network said his injuries were not life-threatening.

Nabil Khoury, a U.S. State Department spokesman in Doha, Qatar, said the strike was "a grave mistake."

However, al-Jazeera chief editor Ibrahim Hilal said the U.S. military knew exactly where the network's offices were, including the building's map coordinates and street number.

Witnesses "saw the plane fly over twice before dropping the bombs. Our office is in a residential area and even the Pentagon knows its location," Hilal said from al-Jazeera headquarters in Doha.

"We are witnesses to what is happening. We are not a party," al-Jazeera correspondent Majed Abdul-Hadi said from Baghdad. "The killing of colleague Tareq Ayyoub and the bombardment of the al-Jazeera office is to cover up the great crime which the Iraqi people are subjected to at the hands of the United States."

The station said Ayyoub's death was not the first time its reporters covering the war had been subjected to danger. It said an al-Jazeera office in the southern city of Basra was bombed, and a car, clearly marked, was fired on at a roadblock.

An Abu Dhabi TV office in Baghdad also was hit. It wasn't clear if there were any casualties.

Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, appearing outside the Palestine Hotel, said coalition forces were targeting civilian areas.

"They bombed residential areas. They bombed al-Jazeera. They are in a state of hysteria and haste. They imagine that by killing civilians, they'll win," he said. "These villains will not win."

Reuters identified its wounded staff as Paul Pasquale of Britain, Samia Nakhoul of Lebanon and Iraqi photographer Faleh Kheiber. Doctors treating them said their injuries were not life-threatening.

Also Tuesday, one of two Polish reporters missing in Iraq after they were stopped by armed men at a checkpoint called his wife to tell her that he and his colleague had escaped and were well.

Ten employees of news organizations have been killed in combat situations during the war in Iraq, which began March 20.

On Monday, two journalists were killed in an Iraqi rocket attack on the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division south of Baghdad, U.S. Central Command said. Spaniard Julio Anguita Parrado, 32, was reporting for the newspaper El Mundo, and Christian Liebig, 35, was covering the war for the German news weekly Focus. Liebig was a former editor on the international news desk of The Associated Press German language service.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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