UN: Reporter killed by IDF tank in Lebanon on Oct. 13 was ‘clearly identifiable’

Peacekeepers say they did not record fire for nearly an hour before tank struck, though military insists it was responding to Hezbollah attack on northern community

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)
File: 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)

An Israeli tank killed Reuters reporter Issam Abdallah in Lebanon last year by firing two 120 mm rounds at a group of “clearly identifiable journalists” in violation of international law, a UN investigation into the October 13 incident has found.

The investigation by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), summarized in a report seen by Reuters, said its personnel did not record any exchange of fire across the border between Israel and Lebanon for more than 40 minutes before the Israeli Merkava tank opened fire.

“The firing at civilians, in this instance, clearly identifiable journalists, constitutes a violation of UNSCR 1701 (2006) and international law,” the UNIFIL report said, referring to Security Council Resolution 1701.

The seven-page report dated February 27 said further: “It is assessed that there was no exchange of fire across the Blue Line at the time of the incident. The reason for the strikes on the journalists is not known.”

Under Resolution 1701, adopted in 2006 to bring an end to the war between Israel and Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists, UN peacekeepers were deployed to monitor a ceasefire along the 120 kilometer (75 mile) demarcation line, or Blue Line, between Israel and Lebanon.

It also calls for Hezbollah to withdraw its forces behind the Litani River — a demand the terror group has ignored.

Civil Defense workers remove the body of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by shelling, at Alma al-Shaab border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

As part of their mission, UN troops record violations of the ceasefire and investigate the most egregious cases.

Besides killing Abdallah, the two tank rounds wounded six other journalists at the scene.

Asked about the UNIFIL report, Israel Defense Forces spokesperson Nir Dinar said Hezbollah had attacked the IDF near Kibbutz Hanita on October 13. It responded with artillery and tank fire to remove the threat and subsequently received a report that journalists had been injured.

“The IDF deplores any injury to uninvolved parties, and does not deliberately shoot at civilians, including journalists,” Dinar said. “The IDF considers the freedom of the press to be of utmost importance while clarifying that being in a war zone is dangerous.”

He said the General Staff’s Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism, which is responsible for reviewing exceptional events, will continue to examine the incident.

According to the IDF’s website, the fact-finding team submits its reviews to the military’s legal affairs department, which decides whether a case warrants a criminal investigation.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza during Israel’s war against the Hamas terror group.

The strikes have drawn daily Israeli responses. Most of the skirmishes, however, have been contained to areas near the border.

This picture taken from Israel along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing near the Lebanese village of Khiam during Israeli airstrikes on March 12, 2024. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

According to the IDF’s estimates, more than 300 Hezbollah operatives have been killed, including five senior commanders, and 750 have been wounded by Israeli strikes. Hezbollah claimed that 244 members were killed.

Another 40 operatives from other terror groups have also been killed in strikes on southern Lebanon, as well as a Lebanese soldier and at least 30 civilians, three of whom were journalists.

The exchanges of fire along the border have caused seven civilian deaths on the Israeli side as well as the deaths of 10 IDF soldiers and reservists.

Visuals of the incident

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni has called on Israel to explain how the attack that killed Abdallah, 37, could have happened, and to hold those responsible to account.

The UNIFIL report was sent to the United Nations in New York on February 28 and has been shared with the Lebanese and Israeli militaries, two people familiar with the matter said.

“(The) IDF should conduct an investigation into the incident and a full review of their procedures at the time to avoid a recurrence,” the report said in its recommendations. “The IDF should share their investigation’s findings with UNIFIL.”

For its investigation, UNIFIL sent a team to visit the site on October 14, and also received contributions from the Lebanese Armed Forces and from an unnamed witness who was present on the hill when the strikes occurred, the report said.

Details of incidents in UNIFIL’s area of operations are included in regular reports by the UN secretary-general on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701. UNIFIL’s investigations, however, are not usually made public, and Reuters was unable to determine whether there would be any UN follow-up.

A UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) patrol is pictured at the site of an overnight Israeli bombardment in the southern Lebanese village of Kafra, on February 29, 2024. (MAHMOUD ZAYYAT / AFP)

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said he was not in a position to discuss the investigation.

UNIFIL’s findings lend further support to a Reuters investigation published on December 7 that showed that seven journalists from Agence France-Presse, Al Jazeera, and Reuters, were hit by two 120 mm rounds fired by a tank 1.34 kilometers away in Israel.

The group of reporters had been filming cross-border shelling from a distance in an open area on a hill near the Lebanese village of Alma al-Chaab for nearly an hour before the attack.

The day afterward, the IDF said it already had visuals of the incident and it was being investigated. The IDF has not published a report of its findings to date.

UNIFIL said in its report that it sent a letter and a questionnaire to the IDF requesting its assistance. The IDF replied with a letter, but did not answer the questionnaire.

Reuters has not seen a copy of the IDF letter, the contents of which were summarized in the UNIFIL report.

Most Popular
read more: