JERUSALEM — Police launched an investigation Thursday after Western journalists photographed plainclothes police officers who had pasted press signs on their car to disguise their identity while investigating Palestinians.
The incident drew a formal complaint from the Foreign Press Assn. in Israel, which said in a letter to the government that such action places journalists "at great personal risk" and urged authorities "to cease such behavior immediately."
The army and other security agencies repeatedly have denied rumors that their agents pose as reporters to get into Arab areas to observe suspects and make arrests.
Journalists covering the 15-month Palestinian uprising have expressed fears that such activity could endanger them if Arabs became fearful of vehicles with press tags.
Police spokesman Uzi Sandori said there were two policemen involved, "but it was the idea of just one of them, his own personal idea."
Police Commissioner David Krauss has asked that an officer be appointed to investigate the matter, Sandori said.
The policemen will remain on duty while the inquiry is made. "The policeman (whose idea it allegedly was) did not break the law, but of course this is a case of ethics," Sandori said.
Spotted by London Crew
Among the journalists who saw the undercover policemen using a car with a press sign was a crew from the London-based Visnews television agency.
Michael Sposito, the Visnews bureau chief in Israel, said a team first noticed the car parked near one of the gates to Jerusalem's Old City.
"It was a late-model Subaru, a rental car, with handwritten press signs in the front and rear windows," Sposito said. " 'Press' was written in English."
Crew Becomes Suspicious
The crew became suspicious when it did not recognize the men in the car and photographed them.
About three hours later, Sposito said, Visnews photographed the same two men arresting Palestinian women after a stone-throwing incident in an Arab East Jerusalem neighborhood, Sposito said.
"Both were armed with sidearms and had handcuffs," he said. "One was talking on a police radio, and one was dragging a Palestinian girl away after arresting her."
Arab Boy Reported Killed
In the continuing violence, soldiers shot and wounded six Palestinians on Thursday in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, 12 people were wounded and a 14-year-old boy was killed, hospital officials said.
At the village of Usarin, south of Nablus in the West Bank, Maher Shakid Said died after being shot in the chest, according to officials of Ittihad Hospital in Nablus.
Separately, a military court sentenced four Palestinian guerrillas to life imprisonment for trying to enter Israel from Lebanon last year. The Palestinians confessed to the attempt and said they belonged to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Syrian-based faction of the PLO.