Images of a 12-year-old boy, Muhammed al-Dura cowering behind his father as a gun battle raged around them in Gaza, and which became a symbol of the second Palestinian intifada, may have been staged, an Israeli inquiry has claimed.
The boy was killed, and at first Israel apologized for its role in his death. But later it suggested he had been hit by Palestinian fire — a version of events it supported this morning with the release of a fresh report by a committee of inquiry into the coverage of the event.
The committee was established last year by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said continued broadcast of the footage was damaging to Israel. The committee's 36-page report concludes that Muhammed and his father Jamal were not hit by gunfire from the Israeli Defense Force.
The report criticized the initial broadcast, by the European TV channel France 2. It said the station's "central claims and accusations had no basis in the material which the station had in its possession at the time … There is no evidence that the IDF was in any way responsible for causing any of the alleged injuries to Jamal or the boy."
The report said footage taken by France 2 but never broadcast showed that after it had claimed Muhammed was dead, he moves his arm and turns his head.
It added: "There is no evidence that Jamal or the boy were wounded in the manner claimed in the report. … In contrast, there are numerous indications that the two were not struck by bullets at all."
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The committee said the initial admission of culpability by Israel was issued in haste, before all the facts were known. This was blamed on the "fog of war."
Yuval Steinitz, the minister of strategic affairs described the incident as "a modern-day blood libel against the state of Israel … The France 2 report was utterly baseless."
But the report's claims were denied by France 2 and its journalist Charles Enderlin, who said they were ready to cooperate with an independent inquiry. Enderlin and the boy's father said they were willing to undergo lie detector tests.
France 2's statement carried on: "From the start of the incident until today, France 2 has shown a willingness to participate in any official legal proceedings accompanied by legal counsel and carried out according to international standards."
The station has launched a defamation claim against a media investigations watchdog, which previously claimed it had staged the entire incident.