Film crew 'begged Israeli soldiers to save colleague'

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The Independent Online

A television producer has told an inquest into the death of a British cameraman killed in Gaza how he begged the Israeli soldiers who shot his colleague to help save his life.

James Miller, 34, was shot through the neck as he and his documentary crew retreated after filming bulldozers razing Palestinian homes at the Rafah refugee camp on 2 May 2003.

The producer, Daniel Edge, said the documentary crew - himself, Mr Miller, a reporter, Saira Shah, and an interpreter, Abdul Rahman Abdullah - had finished filming when they left the danger area and walked towards an armoured personnel carrier (APC) of the Israeli Bedouin Desert Reconnaissance Battalion.

Night-time footage, replayed at St Pancras coroner's court in London yesterday, showed Mr Miller clearly identifying himself as a television journalist and shining a torch at a white flag to indicate his crew were non-combatants. But the soldiers opened fire.

Mr Edge said: "I heard Abdul shouting, it seemed like he was crying in pain - I thought he had been shot. I heard Saira shouting, 'he is injured, he is injured, please don't shoot' and then I heard Abdul shouting 'he is injured'. It was at that point I realised that James had been shot, that he was possibly badly injured, because he was silent."

Mr Edge said he and the two other crew members found Mr Miller alive, but with a bullet wound to his neck. They tried to lift him, but were thwarted by the muddy conditions.

The producer said that after repeated cries for help, the APC moved towards them and a stretcher was tossed down. "It was very muddy, we couldn't carry the stretcher. We dropped it and James fell off - it was terrible. At this stage, one of the soldiers did jump down and lifted the stretcher up on to the APC."

Earlier yesterday, Mr Miller's widow, Sophy, 35, accused the Israeli army of a cover-up and named the soldier who shot her husband as "First Lieutenant Haib", the commander of the Reconnaissance Battalion. He admitted to the shooting at an Israeli army inquest in April last year, which decided the shooting was "reasonable" considering the conditions. He was cleared.

Mr Miller's widow and family accused the Israelis of blaming the Palestinians, destroying incriminating evidence and casting doubt on the professionalism of Mr Miller, a veteran of many conflict zones.

"The thing that is the hardest is that we were given assurances by the Israelis and the [British] Government that it was being fully investigated,'' said his widow, who is bringing up the couple's two children in north Devon.

"Yet it's our family that's done all the work to bring any justice. We had the distinct impression they would like us to leave it. You can understand that in some cases if you didn't have such a strong family, you would.''

A statement by the Israeli army immediately after the shooting said Mr Miller had been caught in crossfire and was probably killed by a Palestinian bullet. An Israeli doctor then wrongly claimed there was a bullet hole in the back, not the front, of his neck. A "field'' investigation failed to gather any witness statements and a day after the killing the scene was bulldozed on the orders of First Lieutenant Haib.

One of Mr Miller's sisters, Anne Waddington, complained that the families had been put under pressure by the Israelis and the British Foreign Office to accept an autopsy on Israeli terms within 24 hours.

She also said radio communications between the APC and its divisional command centre recorded that Mr Miller had been injured "probably from our fire".

The inquest continues.