A PARIS court last week saw vital new evidence in a media libel case that centres on one of the most iconic - and distressing - pieces of international television footage of recent times.

In September 2000, pictures of 12-year-old Mohammed al-Durra cowering with his father during a shoot-out in Gaza, then dying from his wounds, became for many a potent symbol of Israeli brutality.

In the Muslim world the image appeared on monuments and postage stamps, and streets were named after the dead boy.

But in France a self-styled media-watcher has been waging a relentless campaign to have the story branded a fake. Last year Philippe Karsenty was sued for libel by France 2, whose Jerusalem correspondent Charles Enderlin made the al-Durra broadcast.

Karsenty lost, but he immediately lodged an appeal. The case reopened on appeal in October and last week the court was allowed a first glance at something which Karsenty says clinches his argument: the raw footage or "rushes" of the original incident.

For both sides, the stakes are huge. For Karsenty - whose numerous Jewish and Israeli supporters swarm over the blogosphere - the pictures have to be exposed as fakes because of the enormous damage they have done. "People have died because of these images," he says.

But Enderlin insists that the scene at the Netzarim junction was witnessed by his Palestinian cameraman Talal Abu-Rahma, and that honest journalistic standards were followed throughout. He says pressure from the pro-Israeli lobby over the affair is intended to intimidate foreign journalists when it comes to future sensitive cases.

The al-Durra footage has already been the object of lengthy analysis, after the Israeli authorities first appeared to apologise for the boy's death but later retracted. According to a military committee set up to investigate, the father and son's position, behind a concrete cylinder, meant they could not have been hit by Israeli soldiers.

What became known as the "minimalist" version of events had it that the al-Durras were hit accidentally by fire from Palestinian positions. Subsequently, a "maximalist" version also began to circulate on pro-Israeli websites. According to this, the whole incident was a staged set-up and the boy did not even die.

The raw images of the incident were not screened at the original libel trial, so there was considerable anticipation at last Wednesday's hearing at the Paris central courthouse. There was some surprise that the "rushes" did not last the full 27 minutes as originally reported, but only 18.

According to Enderlin, who was in court, this was because the original cassette had been transferred at the time to a master copy in accordance with standing practice, and several minutes of uninteresting material had been wiped. The Karsenty camp, meanwhile, contends that evidence may have been destroyed.

The rest of the footage contains many minutes of standard intifada street ballet before settling on the father and son. According to Karsenty, several observations support his fraud theory. First, there is no sign of blood, and second, there are only a handful of impacts on the wall - despite the cameraman's claim that there were 45 minutes of continuous gunfire.

But the most startling new evidence to emerge is that at the moment when millions of television viewers were led to believe Mohammed al-Durra had died, the boy was in fact alive. The last frames - which come after the heart-rending sequence that concluded the broadcast version - show him lifting his arm and looking towards the camera.

What this proves is, of course, open to endless interpretation. The fact he moved does not mean Mohammed al-Durra did not subsequently die, and no evidence has ever been produced to suggest he is alive. And if he died, the arguments over who shot him remain unchanged.

But the importance may be greater for the actual libel case, which centres on Karsenty's charge that the report "disgraces France and its public broadcasting system".

If the judge thinks Enderlin played fast and loose with journalistic rules in order to make his report more dramatic, he could well decide Karsenty has a case.

Would a more truthfully edited version of story have had the same momentous fallout around the world? The court gives its judgement in February.