| The bloodstained camera of an injured photographer lies on the 15th floor of the Palestine Hotel. (AFP)
Baghdad, April 8 (Reuters): A US tank fired on a Baghdad hotel packed with foreign journalists today, 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 US air strike on its office.
Three other Reuters staffers, 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 US 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 in hospital. The international news organisation’s editor-in-chief Geert Linnebank raised questions about US troops’ judgement.
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 Ayub died in an earlier US strike that hit its offices. A day before, an Iraqi strike killed a German and a Spanish reporter near Baghdad.
Hundreds of journalists are in Iraq to cover the US-led war. The deaths raised to nine the number of people killed while working for the media since the war began on March 20. Two more journalists died of other causes in Iraq.
Abu Dhabi television, which like Jazeera has its own office in Baghdad, called on US 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 after the hit. Glass shards from hotel windows fell to the ground.
Journalists carried wounded colleagues out on bloodstained 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.”
US tanks, artillery and warplanes had been pounding Iraqi forces all morning as the fight for Baghdad came right into the city centre and approached the Palestine Hotel. Iraqis fired back with some artillery and rocket-propelled grenades (RPG).
Central Command, the US war headquarters in Qatar, said forces received “significant enemy fire” from the hotel and returned fire in self-defence. 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 US 3rd Infantry Division in Baghdad, said.
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 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 US commanders that they had warned journalists 48 hours beforehand that Iraqi military commanders were using the building for meetings. Correspondents said they were unaware of any such warning.