Prime Minister Shimon Peres said today that two CBS television crew members killed by Israeli tank fire in southern Lebanon "took position" among armed men and were killed because Israeli soldiers were trying to protect themselves.
In a letter to CBS News President Edward M. Joyce, Peres rejected Joyce's charges that a soundman and a cameraman working for the network were killed in "what eyewitnesses call an unprovoked and deliberate attack."
A French journalist who witnessed the incident said the troops "knew exactly that they were journalists."
Covering Raid on Shias
The two crew members, Tafik Ghazawi, 47, and soundman Bahije Metni, 37, both Lebanese citizens who worked as free-lancers for CBS, were killed Thursday while they were covering a raid on the Shia Muslim village of Kfar Malke near Sidon, on the Lebanese side of Israel's front line in south Lebanon.
Israel was conducting raids on Shia Muslim villages as part of a campaign aimed at quelling a growing number of attacks against its soldiers in south Lebanon.
The CBS employees "took position in the midst of a group of armed men who were engaged in active hostility" against Israeli forces, Peres said in his letter to Joyce. The letter was released by the prime minister's office.
The Israeli tank crew "did not deviate from the strict orders concerning the protection of innocent bystanders," the letter said.
"I reiterate Israel's longstanding and unqualified commitment to freedom of the press and totally reject any suggestion that the incident was anything but a derivative of the tragic situation in Lebanon and the circumstances under which we are forced to carry out our duty to protect the lives of our soldiers," he said.
He expressed "deep sorrow" at the deaths and sent condolences to the families and to the network.
Israel radio reported that Peres had decided that an inquiry into the shooting was not necessary.