As It Happens

Palestinian journalist's final footage from Israel-Gaza border released

Yasser Murtaja, 30, was about to start a new job documenting the effects of violence on children in Gaza when he was killed filming a protest at the Israeli border.

IDF says it will investigate death of Yasser Murtaja, 30, who was shot and killed while covering the protests

Journalist Yasser Murtaja was shot while wearing a vest marked 'press' at a demonstration east of Gaza City. (Facebook)

[Update: After this story was published, Israel Minister Avigdor Lieberman alleged journalist Yasser Murtaja was a member of Hamas who used a drone to collect intelligence on Israeli soldiers. Lieberman provided no evidence to back up the claims.The journalist's family and the Islamic militant group both deny the allegations. Israel's military said it is still investigating and was not able to confirm Lieberman's statements.]

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The Palestinian journalist killed on Friday while covering mass protests along the Israel-Gaza border was about to start a new job. 

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) says it hired Yasser Murtaja, 30, to document the effects of violence on children in Gaza. He was due to begin on Monday. 

Instead, the journalist died from a gunshot wound he sustained while filming protests along the Israel-Gaza border for Palestinian Ain Media. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have vowed to investigate. 

"We do a lot of trauma care for children in the schools of Gaza," NRC secretary-general Jan Egeland told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"He would help us on that, and he was denied that opportunity."

Final footage released 

The NRC has released Murtaja's final footage from the protest.

Filmed in part with a drone, the video combines close-up and aerial footage.

It shows injured protesters being rushed to medical tents, tires being set on fire near the border fence to create billowing black smoke, and grainy shots of Israeli soldiers on the other side — one of them raising a rifle.

Yasser Murtaja's last footage of the Israel-Gaza border protest

3 years ago
Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja was covering the protest for Ain Media when he was killed. This is his final footage. 2:11

"He spent his final hours at a distance from the protest, peacefully observing it with his camera," Egeland​ said.

"You see children, families. You see people peacefully protesting on their land for their rights."

IDF to investigate

Israeli troops opened fire from across the border, killing at least nine Palestinians and wounding 491 others in the second mass border protest in eight days, reports the Associated Press.

The deaths brought to at least 31 the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli fire since last week.

The IDF said that on Friday protesters hurled several explosive devices and firebombs, using the thick plumes of smoke from burning tires as cover, and that several attempts to cross the fence were thwarted.

Witnesses say Murjata was over 100 metres from the border and holding his camera when he was shot.

Photos show him lying wounded on a stretcher wearing a navy-blue protective vest marked 'PRESS' in large black capital letters.

Journalists take part in a protest against Murtaja's killing at the Israel-Gaza border. (Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters)

"It's really heartbreaking because Yasser was a good contact of ours, a wonderful Palestinian journalist committed to document the suffering of the civilians in Gaza where he lived," Egeland​ said.

"We saw him as a very accomplished journalist. I think his greatest dream was to leave Gaza and see something else than that small stretch of land. He was never afforded that opportunity."

The IDF has said it fired only at "instigators" involved in attacks on soldiers and was investigating Murtaja's death amid a very hectic environment.

"The IDF does not intentionally target journalists," the military said in a statement. 

"The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF and are being looked into."

'Putting himself at risk'

Murtaja, 30, was the co-founder of Ain, a local TV production company that has done projects, including aerial drone video, for foreign media clients such as the BBC and Al Jazeera English.

He was one of the first to bring a drone camera into Gaza and his images captivated many of its residents who have never seen Gaza from above since it has no airport or skyscrapers.

Murtaja's colleagues mourn during his funeral in Gaza City. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Murtaja put himself in danger by operating the drone at the border.

"I don't know who he was. Cameraman or no cameraman, anyone operating drones above IDF soldiers must know he is putting himself at risk," Lieberman told reporters.

"We won't take any risks."

Journalists at the scene say Murtaja was not operating the drone when he was shot. 

Either way, Egeland​ said Lieberman's explanation is unacceptable.

"A drone is used as a journalist tool now. He wanted to have images also from above. It was a big demonstration," he said.

Laid to rest, draped in a Palestinian flag

At his funeral on Saturday, Murtaja's body was draped in a Palestinian flag with his flak jacket reading "press" placed upon him as he was carried through the streets of Gaza.

Dozens of his close friends and colleagues were sobbing after the coffin was taken out of the morgue.

He leaves behind a two-year-old son. 

"We hope the countries that believe in international law will follow this up and ask for investigations and that there is accountability for those who are behind the shooting of an innocent civilian," Egeland​ said.​

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Associated Press and Reuters.