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Reuters releases investigation finding Israeli tank fire killed 1 of its journalists

The camera that belonged to Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed by what a Reuters investigation has found was an Israeli tank crew, is displayed during a press conference by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday.
REUTERS/Emilie Madi
The camera that belonged to Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed by what a Reuters investigation has found was an Israeli tank crew, is displayed during a press conference by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in Beirut, Lebanon, on Thursday.

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Investigations conducted by two news organizations and two human rights groups have concluded an Israeli tank round killed a Reuters video journalist near the Lebanese border in October and that Israeli forces either knew or should have known they were targeting journalists.

The reports are the first public investigative findings of any killing of a journalist in the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas — a conflict that has been one of the deadliest for media in recent history. The Committee to Protect Journalists has confirmed the death of at least 63 journalists and media workers since the Gaza war began. They include 56 Palestinians, four Israelis and three Lebanese journalists.

The Israeli military said after the attack that it was investigating the incident. It has not yet issued any findings. Israeli military officials have said repeatedly that they do not target journalists.

Lebanese video journalist Issam Abdallah, 37, was killed and a photographer for Agence France-Presse, Christina Assi, 28, was severely wounded in the Oct. 13 attack. At least five others were also wounded.

The news teams were covering clashes along the border where Israel and the militia Hezbollah were trading fire. All were wearing protective vests and helmets — most clearly marked "PRESS" — during more than an hour in which they reported from the same location, according to the Reuters investigation.

"The Israeli military knew or should have known that they were civilians yet attacked them anyway in two separate strikes 37 seconds apart," Amnesty International saidin a reportreleased Thursday. A separate report released by Human Rights Watch echoed the findings by Amnesty, Reuters and AFP.

Reuters said an Israeli helicopter had hovered overhead before the first strike. At least one of the press vehicles had tape spelling out "TV" on the roof. The reports released Thursday found no evidence of military targets near the journalists. Reuters said evidence of Israeli tank round shrapnel was found embedded in a vehicle and in body armor.

Abdallah was killed instantly while Assi, who can be heard in a video screaming as a camera continued to roll after the attack, had her leg severed and is still in hospital.

Reuters said it spoke to more than 30 government and security officials, forensics and weapons experts and others for its investigation.

Reuters said the journalists were over half a mile from the border with Israel when they were attacked. Its report included a timeline including an image of live video of smoke rising from behind a hill being filmed by Abdallah.

After 45 minutes of filming the camera focused on an Israeli outpost and tank firing into Lebanon. Less than 90 seconds later the first of two tank rounds fired from another hill hit the team, killing Abdullah. A second round 37 seconds later set a car used by Al Jazeera on fire.

Two journalists from the Lebanese network Al Mayadeen were killed in another attack in Lebanon on Nov. 21 as they filmed near the border.

Human rights officials said the multiple sources of video and other images from the attack on Abdallah and the other journalists made it possible to carry out unusually detailed analysis. That is not the case with most of the other attacks, either in Lebanon or in Gaza.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.