The camera of a journalist lies covered with blood as a striking example of U.S. trials to gag media

PARIS, April 8 ( & News Agencies) – The killing of three journalists Tuesday, April 8, in two separate attacks by U.S. forces triggered a torrent of criticism from international media watchdogs and officials.

As the death toll among journalists and staff covering the three-week-old U.S.-led war rose to at least 12, U.S. forces stood accused of breaching the rules of war by targeting journalist, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

“The press is paying a very high price,” the media watchdog group Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) organization said, with 11 journalists and one BBC translator killed since the start of the war on March 20, according to an AFP toll.

“We are appalled by these figures and infuriated by the attitude of the American army, whose behavior has continued to deteriorate with respect to journalists, especially those not embedded since the start of this war,” the group told AFP.

The Paris-based group said it would send a letter later in the day to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “in protest over what appears to be a deliberate act by the American army” and demanding explanations.

For its part, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sent a letter to Rumsfeld expressing concern about U.S. military strikes against media locations in Baghdad.

The CPJ called for an “immediate and thorough investigation into these incidents” and for the findings to be made public.

E.U. president Greece said the E.U. would urge the United States to keep journalists out of the firing line, while Spain — one of whose nationals was killed in an American attack — said it would seek an official explanation from Washington.

“Greece condemns this repugnant act and expresses its sorrow and regret,” a Greek spokesman said.

Italian press federation head Paolo Serventi Longhi said the security situation for journalists was “completely out of control” and urged Rome to intervene with the United States and Britain to stop the bombing of sites where journalists are staying.

In Germany, the independent press union sent a protest message to the U.S. embassy in Berlin, while Russian press freedom activists demanded that those responsible be brought to justice.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) charged that the attacks were possible crimes of war and urged for bringing those responsible to trial.

Arab Journalists Wrathful

Sounding the feelings of wrath that envelope the Arab journalists, the Arab Journalists’ Union accused the U.S. military of deliberately targeting reporters in Baghdad.

“The American invasion forces are deliberately attacking journalists,” the union’s secretary general, Saladin Hafez, said in a statement.

“The air strikes and murder of journalists clearly show that the American and British invasion forces are looking to prevent the press from carrying out its duties,” the statement said.

Hafez charged that the Anglo-American forces “has now begun to strike journalists to stop them from revealing the atrocities committed against civilians.”

The union called for international pressure on Washington and London “to stop their barbaric aggression against the Iraqi people.”

The union of Palestinian journalists also “condemned and denounced this premeditated act, which represents a war crime and a flagrant violation of international laws and conventions.”

It denounced the attack on Al-Jazeera’s offices as “the same barbaric method as the one used by Israeli forces against journalists” in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Dozens of Palestinian journalists rallied to denounce the journalist deaths in Iraq, staging demonstrations in the West Bank towns of Nablus and Bethlehem.

The Union of Syrian Journalists (USJ) also charged that “the U.S.-led invading forces are killing journalists in Iraq to suppress the truth about civilian massacres.”

Earlier in the day, two cameramen, Taras Protsyuk, 35, from the Reuters news agency and Jose Couso, 37, of Spanish television station Telecinco, were killed after a U.S. tank fired on Baghdad’s Palestine hotel, where most foreign journalists are based.

Tareq Ayyoub, a 34-year-old correspondent for Arabic television network Al-Jazeera, was also killed when a U.S. missile crashed into the station’s offices in Baghdad.