Deadly Israeli attack on Lebanese journalists should be investigated as possible war crime

Amnesty International says group of journalists clearly marked as press before attack

Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah was killed in October. Reuters
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A deadly Israeli attack on a group of journalists in southern Lebanon should be investigated as a possible war crime, international rights groups said on Thursday.

The October 13 attack killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and injured six others.

The attack came as the Israel forces and Lebanese armed group Hezbollah exchanged cross-border fire.

Amnesty International said it had verified more than 100 videos and photographs, interviewed witnesses and analysed weapon fragments from the scene.

The investigation found an Israeli tank fired the first strike at 6.02pm, killing Abdallah and severely injuring AFP photojournalist Christina Assi. The latter, who lost a leg, has undergone more than 15 operation since the attack. A second strike 37 seconds later, from a different weapon, landed near an Al Jazeera car, which caught fire.

"Our investigation into the incident uncovers chilling evidence pointing to an attack on a group of international journalists who were carrying our their work by reporting on hostilities," said Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

"Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks are absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes," she said.

A joint investigation by AFP and Airwars, a non-profit organisation that monitors civilian casualties in conflicts, found that the attack involved a 120mm tank shell used only by the Israeli army in the region. A large chunk of munition was found close to the body of Abdallah, photos of which were analysed by six weapons experts.

Amnesty said that the journalists had been wearing protective equipment marked "press", while one of the cars had "TV" emblazoned on the roof.

The group had been stationary near the border village of Alma Al Chaab in an open area for about an hour before the attack.

"The findings indicate that the group was visibly identifiable as journalists and that the Israeli military knew or should have known that they were civilians, yet attacked them anyway in two separate strikes 37 seconds apart," Amnesty said.

Ms Mazjoub said that those responsible for Abdallah's death and the attack on the group of journalists "must be held accountable".

"No journalist should ever be targeted or killed simply for carrying out their work. Israel must not be allowed to kill and attack journalists with impunity.

"There must be an independent and impartial investigation into this deadly attack," she added.

Human Rights Watch, which conducted its own investigation, said the two Israeli strikes "were apparently deliberate attacks on civilians, which is a war crime".

“This is not the first time that Israeli forces have apparently deliberately attacked journalists, with deadly and devastating results,” said Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at HRW.

The rights group said its investigation indicated the journalists were "well removed from ongoing hostilities, clearly identifiable as members of the media and had been stationary for at least 75 minutes before they were hit".

The Lebanese government said it would add the findings of the AFP investigation and another one carried out by Reuters to a complaint to the UN Security Council.

“Israeli criminality has no limits. This is what we are witnessing in Gaza and southern Lebanon. The targeting of media institutions also aims to silence every voice that exposes Israeli aggression," Prime Minister Najib Mikati said.

Since hostilities broke out on the southern Lebanese border on October 8, three Lebanese journalists have been killed. Al Mayadeen reporter Farah Omar and cameraman Rabih Maamari were killed on November 21 in a strike in the village of Teir Harfa. Their local guide Hussein Akl also died.

Updated: December 07, 2023, 3:04 PM