Israel killed Reuters reporter, wounded other journalists in deliberate attack: Investigations

AFP , Ahram Online , Thursday 7 Dec 2023

An Israeli tank crew killed a Reuters journalist and wounded six reporters in Lebanon on 13 October, by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling, separate Reuters and AFP investigations have found.

Lebanon journalist strike
File Photo . A car used by Al Jazeera burns following the Israeli strike on journalists on October 13, 2023. Photo courtesy of Al Araby


The two strikes killed Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah, 37, and severely wounded Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi, 28. Other journalists present - one from Reuters, two from Al Jazeera, and two from AFP - were all injured, just over a kilometre from the Israeli border near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab, according to Reuters.

The group of seven reporters were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with “PRESS” written on them in white letters, Reuters added.

There were journalists from at least another seven media outlets in and around Alma al-Chaab that day, Reuters reported.

Reuters says it "spoke to more than 30 government and security officials, military experts, forensic investigators, lawyers, medics and witnesses to piece together a detailed account of the incident."

The news agency reviewed hours of video footage from eight media outlets in the area at the time and hundreds of photos from before and after the attack, including high-resolution satellite images.

As part of its investigation, Reuters also gathered and obtained evidence from the scene including shrapnel on the ground and embedded in a Reuters car, three flak jackets, a camera, tripod and a large piece of metal.

Another investigation published on Thursday by Reuters found that an Israeli tank crew had killed the Reuters journalist and wounded the six other reporters that day by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.

The Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), an independent research institute that tests and analyses munitions and weapons for clients such as the Dutch defence ministry, examined the material for Reuters at its laboratories in The Hague.

TNO’s key findings were that the large piece of metal was the tail fin of a 120 mm tank round fired by a smoothbore tank gun positioned 1.34 km away from the reporters, across the Lebanese border.

“The evidence we now have, and have published today, shows that an Israeli tank crew killed our colleague Issam Abdallah,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni said.

A similar investigation by Agence France-Presse, jointly conducted with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, found that the attack involved a 120-mm tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this region, Reuters reported.

Two strikes hit the group of journalists in quick succession as they were working near the border village of Alma al-Shaab, AFP said.

“It is absolutely essential that Israel provides a clear explanation for what happened. The targeting of a group of journalists who were clearly identified as media is both inexplicable and unacceptable,” said AFP Global News Director Phil Chetwynd.

Al Jazeera's manager of international communications, Ihtisham Hibatullah, said: "The Reuters investigation into the 13 October attack underscores Israel's alarming pattern of deliberately targeting journalists in an attempt to silence the messenger,” Reuters reported.

In the days after the attack, Israel’s military said it was reviewing what had happened, but it has not made any findings public.

Deliberate attack, war crime

The two Israeli strikes were an apparently "deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime," Human Rights Watch said.

Witness accounts and video and photo evidence that HRW verified indicate that the journalists were well removed from ongoing hostilities, clearly identifiable as members of the media, and had been stationary for at least 75 minutes before they were hit by two consecutive strikes, AFP reported.

HRW found no evidence of a military target near the journalists’ location, AFP added.

“This is not the first time that Israeli forces have apparently deliberately attacked journalists, with deadly and devastating results,” said Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at HRW.

“Those responsible need to be held to account, and it needs to be made clear that journalists and other civilians are not lawful targets.”

HRW interviewed seven witnesses, including three of the injured journalists, and analyzed 49 videos and dozens of photos, in addition to satellite images. The group also interviewed a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) representative and consulted military, video, and audio experts, AFP reported.

"Evidence reviewed indicates that the Israeli military knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians," HRW concluded.

An investigation by Amnesty, like the HRW, said the strikes "were likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime," AFP added.

"Those responsible for Issam Abdallah's unlawful killing and the injuring of six other journalists must be held accountable," said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty cited verified images that showed "the seven journalists were wearing body armour labelled 'press', and that the blue Reuters crew car was marked 'TV' with yellow tape on its hood".

"No journalist should ever be targeted or killed simply for carrying out their work. Israel must not be allowed to kill and attack journalists with impunity," added Majzoub.

As of December 7, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) preliminary investigations showed at least 59 journalists (56 Palestinian, and 3 Lebanese), and media workers were among the more than 17,700 killed by Israel since the war began on 7 October, AFP reported.

Directly targeting civilians or civilian objects is strictly forbidden under the laws of armed conflict, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which all U.N. member states have ratified.

As those in the news media have the full scope of protection granted to civilians, journalists cannot be considered military targets.

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