Media freedom group accuses Israel, Hamas of war crimes over deaths of 34 journalists

Reporters Without Borders urges international court ICC to investigate killings of reporters in Gaza, Lebanon and Israel during current war

Journalists take cover upon hearing warning sirens in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on the border with the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)
Journalists take cover upon hearing warning sirens in the southern Israeli city of Sderot on the border with the Gaza Strip on October 20, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian terror group Hamas. (Photo by Jack Guez / AFP)

Thirty-four journalists have been killed in the war between Israel and the Hamas terror group, an international media freedom group said Wednesday, accusing both sides of committing possible war crimes.

Reporters Without Borders called on International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors to investigate the deaths. The organization said it had already filed a complaint regarding eight Palestinian journalists it claimed were killed in Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip, and an Israeli journalist murdered during Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel.

However, more than one Israeli journalist was killed in the Hamas assault. Ynet photographer Roee Idan was murdered in his hometown of Kfar Aza, Israel Hayom photographer Yaniv Zohar was murdered in Nahal Oz along with his wife and two daughters, and Kan news editor Ayelet Arnin and Maariv reporter Shai Regev were murdered at the Nova music festival near Re’im.

“The scale, seriousness and recurring nature of international crimes targeting journalists, particularly in Gaza, calls for a priority investigation by the ICC prosecutor,” Christophe Deloire, director-general of the group also known by the French abbreviation RSF, said. The organization is headquartered in France.

It’s the third such complaint to be filed by the group since 2018 alleging war crimes against Palestinian journalists in Gaza.

Israel says it makes every effort to avoid killing civilians and accuses Hamas of putting them at risk by operating in residential areas, refusing repeated calls to allow civilians to evacuate to designated safe zones, and launching thousands of rockets at Israel, hundreds of which are believed to have misfired and landed in Gaza during the current war.

The organization said its latest complaint also cites “the deliberate, total or partial, destruction of the premises of more than 50 media outlets in Gaza” since Israel declared war with the aim of rooting out the Hamas terror group, which openly seeks Israel’s destruction and has ruled the Strip since taking over in a bloody 2007 coup.

Another media freedom organization, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said Wednesday that it was investigating reports of journalists “killed, injured, detained or missing” in the war, including in Lebanon. It said its preliminary death toll was at least 31 journalists and media workers.

“CPJ emphasizes that journalists are civilians doing important work during times of crisis and must not be targeted by warring parties,” said Sherif Mansour, the New York-based nonprofit’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator.

Palestinian journalists attend a gathering to denounce the killing of journalists on October 10, 2023, in Nablus city in the West Bank. (Photo by Zain JAAFAR / AFP)

The ICC’s prosecution office is already investigating the actions of Israeli and Palestinian authorities dating back to Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in 2014. The probe — which Israel views as illegitimate since it was set up in a way that avoids probing Hamas’s kidnapping and murdering of three Israeli teenagers, which sparked that war — can also consider allegations of crimes committed during the current war.

During a visit to the Rafah border crossing on Sunday, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan called on Israel to respect international law but stopped short of accusing the country of war crimes. He called Hamas’s October 7 rampage — when some 2,500 terrorists invaded Israel and killed some 1,400 people, mostly civilians slaughtered in their homes or at a music festival — a serious violation of international humanitarian law.

Israel argues the ICC has no jurisdiction in the conflict because Palestine is not an independent sovereign state. Israel isn’t a party to the treaty that underpins the international court and is not one of its 123 member states.

Reporters Without Borders said Sunday that strikes that hit a group of journalists in southern Lebanon earlier this month, killing one, were targeted rather than accidental and that the journalists had clearly been identified as members of the press.

The organization published preliminary conclusions from an ongoing investigation, based on video evidence and witness testimonies, into two strikes that killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah and wounded six journalists from Reuters, AFP and Al Jazeera as they were covering clashes on the southern Lebanese border on October 13.

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