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Photo of 'Captain America' star misrepresented amid Gaza conflict

Social media users are claiming a photo shows American actor Chris Evans inscribing a message on a missile destined for the Gaza Strip as Israel continues to rain airstrikes on the Palestinian territory in its war with Hamas. This is false; the US military took the picture of the movie star as he and other celebrities visited troops in Turkey in 2016, years before the militant group's deadly attack on Israel plunged the region into conflict.

"Captain America signing bombs to drop on children is the most American thing he’s ever done," says a February 5, 2024 post on X, formerly Twitter, referencing the Marvel Comics superhero Evans is known for playing in a series of films.

"Captain America actor Chris Evans signs an Israeli bomb that will kill innocent civilians in Gaza," says another post on Facebook.

<span>Screenshot from X taken February 8, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken February 8, 2024

Similar posts linking the image to the fighting that has devastated the Gaza Strip for months spread across platforms, including in French.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged ally Israel not to "dehumanize" Palestinians as he visited the nation February 7, part of a Middle East tour that failed to secure a pause in fighting.

At least 27,840 Palestinians -- around 70 percent of them women, young children and adolescents -- have been killed in Gaza since Hamas's October 7 attack as the result of Israel's bombardments and ground offensive, according to the Hamas government's Ministry of Health. Lack of food has also put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees warned.

Hamas's assault in Israel that ignited the conflict killed about 1,160 people, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

But the picture of Evans is unrelated to the Israel-Hamas war.

Photo from 2016

A reverse image search surfaced the photo on the Pentagon's Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website (archived here). The site says a US Navy petty officer 2nd class snapped it at a base in Turkey during a December 2016 holiday tour sponsored by the United Service Organizations (USO), a nonprofit that arranges entertainment and other programs for American armed forces and their families.

The visiting group also included actress Scarlett Johansson, former professional basketball player Ray Allen, former Olympic swimmer Maya DiRado, musician Craig Campbell and mentalist Jim Karol.

"Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and USO entertainers meet with service members at Incirlik Air Base, Dec. 5, 2016," the photo caption says. "Dunford, along with USO entertainers, will visit service members who are deployed from home during the holidays at various locations across the globe."

The airman holding the unidentified weapon up for Evans is wearing military fatigues marked, "U.S. Air Force."

<span>Screenshot from the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service taken February 8, 2024</span>
Screenshot from the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service taken February 8, 2024

"I can verify this is a photo from our 2016 USO Holiday Tour and was taken by a DoD photographer at that time," Jennifer Passey, director of communications for the USO, told AFP in a February 7, 2024 email.

A spokesperson for the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service also confirmed the photo is from 2016.

Additional photos and videos show the "Captain America" star at other points of the tour (archived here, here, herehere).

Some of those visuals appear to depict the same airman, recognizable for his wavy black hair, showing Evans and his fellow celebrity guests other military weapons and technologies (archived here, here and here). Others show Evans signing autographs for different servicemen and women (archived here and here).

An Air Force spokesperson told AFP in a February 9 email that the apparent weapon in the photo of Evans was not meant for the battlefield.

"The object Chris Evans is signing in the USO tour photo from 2016 is an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) inert training aid," the spokesperson said. "The object is meant to model an artillery shell and is for display and training purposes only."

A Defense Department write-up published the day the photo was taken said the Incirlik Air Base was at the time a hub for the US campaign against the Islamic State group (archived here).

AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war here.

February 9, 2024 This article was updated to add comment from an Air Force spokesperson.