Reuters Says Israeli Tank Shells Killed One of Its Journalists, Wounded Others

An investigation found two shells were fired at a group of clearly identified press working outside a combat zone

BEIRUT, LEBANON – OCTOBER 22: A Lebanese girl lights a candle during an event honoring Issam Abdallah, Lebanese photojournalist killed by a missile strike of the IDF last October 13 while working in southern Lebanon, on October 22, 2023 in Beirut, Lebanon. Journalists and other civilians have been killed or wounded as Lebanon's southern frontier with Israel sees its most active fighting in years, with the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militant group trading cross-border fire with Israel over the last two weeks. Regional tensions have flared following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in southern Israel, prompting that country to launch a siege of the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Manu Brabo/Getty Images)

The Reuters news agency on Thursday said an Israeli tank crew killed one of its journalists and wounded six reporters working in Lebanon on Oct. 13 when the IDF fired two shells from Israel into an area where the crew was working.

The organization published a detailed investigation that found that the two strikes that killed Reuters visual journalist Issam Abdallah, 37, and seriously wounded Christina Assi, 28, a photographer for Agence France-Press, or AFP, another French news agency, when they were filming cross-border shelling.

The report said Reuters “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 probe included reviews of “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.”

Reuters journalists also gathered material 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.”

In addition to the Reuters team and AFP, Al Jazeera was also working in the southern Lebanon hills about 1 kilometer, or just over half a mile, from the Israeli border shortly after 5 p.m. that day. All seven journalists were wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most of which had “PRESS” written on them in white letters.

Abdallah sent a photo showing the teams setting up, and a few minutes later the team started transmitting a live video feed of smoke rising from various spots hidden behind hills, the Reuters report recounted. They filmed for about 45 minutes, when the camera panned to the right to focus on an Israeli outpost and tank that was firing into Lebanon.

“Less than 90 seconds later, the first of two tank rounds fired from another hill hits the team, killing Abdallah,” the report said. “A second round hits 37 second later, setting Al Jazeera’s car ablaze.”

The report details efforts to have the shrapnel and other materials gathered at the scene examined by the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Researchin The Hauge. The agency found that the large piece of metal gathered from the site was part of a 120mm tank round. There is no record of the militant group Hezbollah, which operates from Lebanon, using tanks with that type of weapon, and the Lebanese army’s largest round is 105 mm, the report said.

The organization also analyzed news teams’ audio recordings, and was able to geolocate the firing point. One team from the news organization Rai captured both rounds being fired on video, the report said.

AFP video journalist Dylan Collins, 35, who was hit by shrapnel from the second strike, told Reuters the group of journalists was in plain site and “well marked.”

“They knew we were there for well over an hour,” he said.

AFP, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch published similar findings on Thursday.

“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. “We condemn Issam’s killing. We call on Israel to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible for his death and the wounding of Christina Assi of the AFP, our colleagues Thaier Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh, and the three other journalists,” she said. “Issam was a brilliant and passionate journalist, who was much loved at Reuters.”

AFP said the evident Reuters put together confirmed its own analysis, the report 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. An Al Jazeera spokesman said the incident “underscores Israel’s alarming pattern of deliberately targeting journalists in an attempt to silence the messenger.”

Targeting journalists is a violation of international law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said the findings echo its own May 2023 report, “which showed a deadly pattern of lethal force by the IDF that killed 20 journalists over the last 22 years.” It noted that no one has ever been charged or held to account for the deaths.

CPJ has tracked at least 63 journalists and media workers among those killed since the Israel-Gaza fighting began Oct. 7, calling the first month of the conflict “the deadliest month for journalists” since 1992.

Reuters noted that the Israel Defense Forces said in the days after the attack that it was reviewing what had happened, but no findings were made public.

Reuters wrote that it presented the IDF with its findings and a series of questions, “including whether Israeli troops knew they were firing upon journalists.”

“We don’t target journalists,” Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, the IDF’s international spokesman, told the news organization, but provided no further comments.

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