|AFP - The killing of three journalists in two separate attacks by US forces fighting for control of Baghdad triggered a torrent of criticism from international media watchdogs and officials.
Two cameramen, Taras Protsyuk, 35, from the Reuters news agency and Jose Couso, 37, of Spanish television station Telecinco, were killed after a US tank fired on Baghdad's Palestine hotel, where most foreign journalists are based.
Tareq Ayub, a 34-year-old correspondent for Arabic television network al-Jazeera was also killed when a US missile crashed into the station's offices in Baghdad.
As the death toll among journalists and staff covering the three-week-old conflict rose to at least 12, US forces stood accused of breaching the rules of war by targeting journalists.
"The press is paying a very high price," Reporters Without Borders (RSF) media watchdog said.
"We are appalled by these figures and infuriated by the attitude of the American army, whose behaviour has continued to deteriorate with respect to journalists, especially those not embedded since the start of this war," it said.
The group was to send a letter to US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, demanding explanations over "what appears to be a deliberate act by the American army".
But the US war command later blamed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's regime for putting civilians at risk and said the press had been warned of the dangers in Baghdad.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also said there was "no doubt at all that these attacks could be targeting journalists".
"If so, they are grave and serious violations of international law," said Aidan White, head of the Brussels-based organisation.
Recalling that al-Jazeera's Kabul office had also been destroyed by US strikes in November 2001, he suggested US forces could have deliberately targeted the Arab network's operation in Baghdad.
But the IFJ also accused the Iraqi regime of using journalists and other civilians as "human shields".
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 US embassy in Berlin, while Russian press freedom activists demanded that those responsible be brought to justice.
"If this was a premeditated shot, the Americans must be punished," said Russian press representative Oleg Panfilov.
"Even if there was a sniper on the roof, you cannot shoot at a hotel sheltering journalists," he said.The International Press Institute (IPI) in Vienna gave US forces the benefit of the doubt, however, saying the incident was "probably ... a very unfortunate mistake".
Media Deaths Spark Outrage
9 April 2003