ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Watchdog: Shelling that killed videographer ‘explicitly targeted’ Lebanon journalists

Israel says deadly mid-October border incident in which Issam Abdallah was killed is under review; press freedom group claims reporters were targeted despite being marked as press

Lebanese journalists hold portraits of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by shelling on the Lebanon border, during a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, October 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Lebanese journalists hold portraits of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by shelling on the Lebanon border, during a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, Sunday, October 15, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

BEIRUT — A watchdog group advocating for press freedom has claimed 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 were clearly identified as press.

Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, published preliminary conclusions Sunday in 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 between IDF troops and Hezbollah operatives on the southern Lebanese border on October 13.

The first strike killed Abdallah, and the second hit a vehicle belonging to an Al Jazeera team, injuring journalists standing next to it. Both came from the direction of the Israeli border, the report said, but it did not explicitly name Israel as being responsible.

“What we can prove with facts, with evidence for the moment, is that the location where the journalists were standing was explicitly targeted… and they were clearly identifiable as journalists,” the head of RSF’s Middle East desk, Jonathan Dagher, told The Associated Press Monday. “It shows that the killing of Issam Abdallah was not an accident.”

Dagher said there is not enough evidence at this stage to say the group was targeted specifically because they were journalists.

However, the report noted that the journalists wore helmets and vests marked “press,” as was the vehicle, and cited the surviving journalists as saying that they had been standing in clear view for an hour and saw an Israeli Apache helicopter flying over them before the strikes.

Carmen Joukhadar, an Al Jazeera correspondent who was wounded that day and suffered shrapnel wounds in her arms and legs, told the AP the journalists had positioned themselves some 3 kilometers (2 miles) away from the clashes.

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, Friday, October 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)

Regular skirmishes have flared up between Israeli forces and armed groups in Lebanon since Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in southern Israel, during which some 2,500 terrorists poured over the border from Gaza via land, air and sea, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking over 240 hostages.

In response, Israel vowed to eradicate Hamas from the Gaza Strip, where the group has ruled since 2007.

Since October 8, daily exchanges of fire have occurred between Israeli forces and Hezbollah, as well as with allied Palestinian resistance groups based in Lebanon.

“Everything was on the other hill, nothing next to us,” Joukhadar said of the incident on the Lebanese border on October 13. “If there was shelling next to us, we would have left immediately.”

The Lebanese army accused Israel of attacking the group of journalists.

Israeli officials have said that they do not deliberately target journalists.

Reuters spokesperson Heather Carpenter said that the news organization is reviewing the RSF report and called for “Israeli authorities to conduct a swift, thorough and transparent probe into what happened.”

The Israeli military has said the incident is under review. When asked to comment on the RSF report, the military referred back to an October 15 statement.

In the statement, it said that Israeli forces responded with tank and artillery fire to an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah across the border that evening and a “suspected a terrorist infiltration into Israeli territory” and later received a report that journalists had been injured.

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