AFP probe into October strike on journalists in Lebanon points to Israeli tank shell

Human Rights Watch alleges ‘apparent deliberate attack on civilians’ in death of Reuters reporter; IDF has said it is ‘looking into the incident’

Photographers take pictures of the damaged camera of late Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah (portrait) during a joint press conference by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in Beirut on December 7, 2023. (AFP)
Photographers take pictures of the damaged camera of late Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah (portrait) during a joint press conference by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in Beirut on December 7, 2023. (AFP)

PARIS, France — An investigation by Agence France Presse, Reuters and rights groups into a strike in southern Lebanon on October 13 that killed a Reuters journalist and injured six others, including two from AFP, points to a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in the high-tension border region.

Jointly conducted with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, the AFP investigation found that the attack involved a 120-mm tank shell.

It found that the strikes likely came from the southeast near the ruined village of Jordeikh in Israel, where Israeli tanks were operating.

An Israeli military spokesman said after the strike: “We are very sorry for the journalist’s death,” adding that Israel was “looking into” the incident, without taking responsibility. The military has not commented since.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah and local branches of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups have been attacking Israel on a near-daily basis across the border, leading to exchanges of fire, since Hamas terrorists carried out their devastating October 7 attacks on Israel, killing over 1,200 people and taking over 240 hostages. In response Israel began a military campaign aiming to topple the Hamas regime in Gaza and free the hostages.

Human Rights Watch accused Israel on Thursday of “apparently deliberate attacks on civilians, which is a war crime” and which “should be prosecuted or may be prosecuted for war crimes” in the October 13 incident.

It did not offer reasoning for making the accusation, beyond saying there had not been military activity in the area struck and that the journalists were clearly marked as such.

“The evidence strongly suggests that Israeli forces knew or should have known that the group that they were attacking were journalists,” said Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty said the incident was “likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime.”

The AFP investigation was based on evidence gathered from expert analysis of a munitions fragment, satellite images, witness testimonies, and video recordings filmed before and during the attack.

The group of seven journalists from Reuters, Al Jazeera, and AFP were hit by two strikes in quick succession shortly after 6 p.m. as they were filming clashes between the Israeli army and terror groups in southern Lebanon.

Issam Abdallah, a 37-year-old journalist for the Reuters news agency, was killed instantly by the first strike.

The other six were all injured. AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28, later had a leg amputated and is still in the hospital.

Issam Abdallah, a videographer for the Reuters news agency, poses for a selfie while working in Maras, Turkey, on February 11, 2023. (Issam Abdallah/Reuters via AP)

Israeli munition

A large remnant of munition was found close to the body of Abdallah, photos of which were analyzed by six weapons experts for AFP and Airwars.

All agreed that it was part of a 120-mm stabilized tank shell used by the Israeli army in its Merkava tanks.

No other military group or organization in the region uses this type of munition, the analysts said.

An Israeli Merkava tank takes part in a military drill near the border with Lebanon in the upper Galilee region of northern Israel on October 26, 2023 (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

A Reuters investigation found that two Israeli tank rounds fired from the same position across the border were used in the attack.

It was not possible to identify precisely which tank fired the shots, but the investigation found a high degree of certainty that it came from a military position near Jordeikh.

Satellite imagery shows that Israeli tanks were operating from that position at the time, it said.

AFP global news director Phil Chetwynd said the agency shared its latest findings with the Israeli military but has yet to receive a response.

“It is absolutely essential that we have answers from Israel. As soon as this incident happened, we asked Israel to conduct a thorough investigation into exactly what happened. Two months later, we are still waiting for answers,” he said.

“AFP has been very clear that we will take all judicial avenues that we deem relevant and possible to ensure that we can get justice for Christina and Issam.”

A picture taken from the Israeli side of border with Lebanon shows Israeli shelling around the southern Lebanese village of Aita al-Shaab on December 5, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Targeted strikes

The group of journalists were filming Israeli bombardments on Lebanese territory from the top of an open hill, AFP said.

All were equipped with helmets and bulletproof vests marked “Press,” with their cameras placed prominently on tripods.

AFP said multiple witnesses attested there was no military activity, nor any sign of the presence of an armed group, in their immediate vicinity during the hour before the attack.

It said experts found it improbable that the Israeli army could have mistaken them for fighters, given the sophistication of its surveillance. Footage from the scene makes clear that a helicopter and drone flew low over the area prior to the attack. The fact that the journalists were targeted by two separate strikes 37 seconds apart, falling a few meters from each other, excludes the hypothesis of accidental shooting, the experts said.

Since the war between Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas began on October 7, 63 journalists and media workers — 56 Palestinian, 4 Israeli, and 3 Lebanese — have been killed, the Committee to Protect Journalists says.

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