Blinken laments 'unimaginable tragedy'

IDF: Al Jazeera journalists were killed in car with drone-operating terror operative

Hamza Wael Dahdouh, son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh, and Mustafa Thuria died in a strike in Rafah; Al Jazeera accuses Israel of deliberately targeting them

Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh, hugs his daughter and holds his son's hand during the funeral of his son Hamza Wael Dahdouh, a journalist with Al Jazeera who was killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024. (Photo by AFP)
Al Jazeera's bureau chief in Gaza, Wael Al-Dahdouh, hugs his daughter and holds his son's hand during the funeral of his son Hamza Wael Dahdouh, a journalist with Al Jazeera who was killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on January 7, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces responded late Sunday to reports of the deaths of two Palestinian journalists working for Al Jazeera in an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip earlier in the day, saying the pair were traveling in a vehicle with a terror operative who was operating a drone.

In Sunday’s strike in Rafah, Hamza Wael Dahdouh, the son of Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh, and Mustafa Thuria, a video stringer for AFP who was also working for the Qatar-based TV outlet, were both killed. A third journalist, Hazem Rajab, was seriously wounded, Al Jazeera said.

In response to a query on the matter, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit told The Times of Israel that a military aircraft “identified and struck a terrorist who operated an aircraft in a way that put IDF forces at risk.”

The IDF said it was aware of “the claim that during the strike two other suspects who were with the terrorist in the same vehicle were hit.”

Witnesses told AFP that two rockets were fired at the car — one hit the front of the vehicle and the other hit Dahdouh, who was sitting next to the driver.

AFP video footage showed a crowd of people inspecting the car’s mangled remains, while pools of blood lay on the road. No other damage was visible in the area.

Palestinians look at a car targeted by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. Two journalists were killed in the strike, Hanza Dahdouh, who worked for Al Jazeera, and a freelance journalist, Mustafa Thuria. The IDF said the two were traveling in a vehicle with a terror operative operating a drone. (AP/Hatem Ali)

Amer Abu Amr, a photojournalist, said in a Facebook post that he and another journalist, Ahmed al-Bursh, survived the strike.

Thuria, in his 30s, had worked with AFP since 2019 and had also worked with other international media outlets.

Thuria and Hamza Wael Dahdouh had been tasked with filming the aftermath of a strike on a house in Rafah and their car was hit while they were on their way back, AFP correspondents said.

Hamza’s father, Wael Dahdouh, 53, has been the face of Al Jazeera’s 24-hour coverage of this war and previous rounds of fighting for millions of Arabic-speaking viewers across the region, nearly always appearing on air in the blue helmet and flak jacket worn to identify journalists in the Palestinian territories.

Dahdouh lost his wife, two other children and a grandson earlier in the war on Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the terror group’s murderous onslaught in Israel on October 7 when thousands of terrorists killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took 240 hostages of all ages.

Speaking to Al Jazeera after his son’s burial, Dahdouh vowed to continue reporting on the war.

“The whole world must look at what is happening here in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “What is happening is a great injustice to defenseless people, civilian people. It is also unfair for us as journalists.”

Qatar’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani (R) speaks next to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a press conference in Doha on January 7, 2024. (EVELYN HOCKSTEIN / AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is shuttling between Mideast countries this week, said he was “deeply, deeply sorry” for Dahdouh’s loss.

“I am a parent myself, I can’t begin to imagine the horror that he has experienced, not once, but now twice. This is an unimaginable tragedy and that’s also been the case for far too many innocent Palestinian men, women, children,” Blinken said during a stop in Qatar. Blinken heads to the UAE and Saudi Arabia on Monday and then on to Israel.

In a statement, Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately targeting the reporters.

It also vowed to take “all legal measures to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.”

“We urge the International Criminal Court, the governments and human rights organizations, and the United Nations to hold Israel accountable for its heinous crimes and demand an end to the targeting and killing of journalists,” the network said in a statement.

In late October, Dahdouh was reporting on the offensive when he received word that his wife, daughter and another son had been killed in an Israeli airstrike, Al Jazeera said. His grandson, wounded in the same strike, died hours later. The Qatar-based broadcaster later aired footage of him weeping over the body of his son while still wearing his blue press vest.

In December, an Israeli strike on a school in Khan Younis wounded Dahdouh and Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abu Daqqa, the Qatari network said. Dahdouh was able to run for help, but Abu Daqqa bled to death as ambulances were unable to reach him because of blocked roads, according to Al Jazeera.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 70 Palestinian reporters, as well as four Israeli and three Lebanese reporters, have been killed since Hamas’ October 7 attack triggered the war in Gaza and an escalation in fighting along Israel’s border with Lebanon.

Over 22,800 Palestinians have been killed in the war according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry, which does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths. Israel estimates that about 8,500 terrorists have been killed since it launched its ground offensive into Gaza in late October.

Israel denies targeting journalists and says it makes every effort to avoid harming civilians, blaming the high death toll on the fact that Hamas fights in densely populated urban areas and embeds itself deliberately among civilians who are used as human shields. In a statement on Dec. 16, the Israeli army said “the IDF has never, and will never, deliberately target journalists.”

The Israel-Hamas war began after 3,000 Hamas-led terrorists burst through the Gaza border into southern Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people — most of them civilians, slaughtered amid brutal atrocities in their homes communities and at a music festival — and abducted some 240 people to Gaza, where 132 are still held hostage. Israel, in response, vowed to dismantle the military and governance capacities of the Gaza-ruling terror group and to secure the return of the hostages.

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