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Army: Soldier Who Shot Photographer Was Not Following Orders

September 30, 1994 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) _ An officer violated orders when he shot an Associated Press photographer during street disturbances March 7, the army said Friday.

The officer was given a warning after a disciplinary hearing, Lt. Col. Moshe Fogel of the army spokesman’s office said in a letter.

John Gaps III, 35, a photographer for The Associated Press from Des Moines, Iowa, was wounded in the knee by a plastic bullet on March 7 in the Jebaliya Refugee Camp in the Gaza Strip.

Military Police had been unable to determine what happened in the shooting due to conflicting eyewitness accounts, the letter said. However, the officer who fired the shot was subjected to a disciplinary hearing, conducted by a brigadier general. Neither man was identified by name.

″The officer was found guilty of not following the standard open-fire orders of the Israeli Defense Forces, and was issued a warning,″ the letter said.

The army spokesman’s office would not say what the warning meant for the soldier.

″A warning is a warning. He was told not to do it again,″ said spokesman Capt. Daniel Seaman.

Jamil Hamad, acting chairman of the Foreign Press Association, said in reaction to the letter that the army should issue a statement to soldiers emphasizing that journalists are only covering the story, and are not part of it.

″The army has not done enough to educate soldiers that journalists are not the enemy. Journalists still face hostility in the field,″ Hamad said.

Gaps said he arrived outside the army base at the center of the refugee camp shortly after a demonstration had taken place.

″I was photographing the scene when I noticed a soldier near the gate to the army base about 100 yards away from me. He was down on one knee, in a shooting position. He had a scope on his rifle and he was tracking me,″ Gaps said at the time.

The soldier fired and a .22-caliber plastic sniper round lodged in Gaps’ thigh. It was removed by doctors at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City.

The army spokesman’s office said after the preliminary review of the incident that the officer told investigators he fired in the direction of a disturbance with the intention of dispersing demonstrators. The army withdrew from its bases in the refugee camps in May when most of the Gaza Strip came under Palestinian self-rule.