BEIRUT (THE WASHINGTON POST) – News organisations and rights groups that investigated shelling that killed a journalist and injured others in Lebanon in October said their findings indicate that apartheid state was responsible.
Two rights groups described the attack as a “war crime.”
The shelling on October 13 in southern Lebanon killed Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, 37, and severely wounded Agence France-Presse photographer Christina Assi, 28. Other journalists from Reuters, AFP and Al Jazeera were also injured.
Representatives of Reuters, AFP, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International appeared at a packed news conference in the Lebanese capital Thursday morning to jointly present the findings of their separate investigations into the attack on the journalists. Present in the audience were Abdallah’s family members, as well as Al Jazeera cameraman Elie Brakhya, who was injured October 13, with one arm still in a cast and the other bandaged.
After a moment of silence to mourn journalists killed in the conflict, Dylan Collins, an AFP videographer who was with Abdallah when he was killed, recounted the events of that day, saying he was there “to serve as a witness to what happened.”
He and his colleague Assi, as well as Abdallah, had set up on a hilltop near Alma al-Chaab, where they found the Al Jazeera crew broadcasting as well.
“We felt safe, we felt secure, so we got to work, seven journalists, all of us wearing flak jackets and helmets, everyone clearly marked as a member of the press,” he said. “The Israelis knew we were there from the moment we arrived.”
Shortly before 6pm local time, Collins said, they turned their cameras west as the sun was setting.
“There was smoke, and then boom, we were hit,” he said. Collins said he went to tend to Assi, who was on the ground screaming that “she couldn’t feel her legs.” While tending to her wounds, a second strike hit the Al Jazeera car next to them, Collins said. “I looked up and saw a leg next to the Al Jazeera car, which I later realised belonged to Issam.”
They did not find his body until the ambulance came, Collins added. “He was blown through the wall he was standing next to. He landed amid the rubble, his body charred almost beyond recognition.”
Assi is still in a hospital recovering from her wounds, Collins said. He read a message that she asked him to pass on: “We choose journalism with a mission to deliver the truth, and despite the inevitable costs, our commitment remains unwavering. Nothing can silence us.”
The investigations by the four groups drew on analysis from munitions experts, satellite images, witness testimony and images captured at the scene before and after the attacks.
Reuters said in its report Thursday that “an Israeli tank crew killed a Reuters journalist and wounded six reporters in Lebanon on October 13 by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling.”
Reuters said it obtained evidence from the scene, including shrapnel on the ground and embedded in a Reuters car, three flak jackets, a camera, tripod and a large piece of metal. The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research, a research institute that tests and analyses munitions, found that the metal piece “was the tail fin of a 120mm tank round fired by a smoothbore tank gun positioned 1.34 km away from the reporters, across the Lebanese border,” Reuters said.
Reuters editor in chief Alessandra Galloni condemned the killing in a statement and called on “Israel to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible.”
AFP, which conducted its separate investigation in partnership with Airwars, a human rights nonprofit based in Britain, said the evidence it collected on the deadly strikes “points to a tank round used only by the Israeli army in this high-tension border region.”
AFP said in its report that it was able to come to “three key conclusions.” One is that the munition that killed Abdallah was of Israeli origin and “is not used by any other groups in the region.” Another, it said, is that “the strikes were deliberate and targeted,” coming close together in time and space and hitting journalists who “were clearly identified as press, away from any military activity.” Finally, it said, “the strikes likely came from southeast of the journalists’ position, apparently near the Israeli village of Jordeikh where Israeli tanks were operating.”
Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the news conference that the evidence reviewed by his organisation shows “that the Israeli army knew or should have known that the people they were firing on were civilians and journalists.”
Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday that 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 by two consecutive strikes.” It said it found “no evidence of a military target near the journalists’ location.”
Amnesty International made similar points and said the attack “must be investigated as a war crime.” It said that even though “the group was visibly identifiable as journalists,” the apartheid regime’s military “attacked them anyway in two separate strikes 37 seconds apart.”
At a news conference Thursday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he was “deeply sorry for this loss.”
“It is important and appropriate that it [the strike] be fully and thoroughly investigated,” Blinken said.
Eylon Levy, a spokesman for apartheid state’s government, said Thursday that he was not familiar with the findings of the investigations but said the apartheid regime respects international law and does not target civilians. The apartheid state’s Defense Forces previously said it was investigating the incident, and a spokesman for the apartheid regime’s military said in October it was “very sorry” for the journalist’s death but that it was not sure who was responsible.
The Washington Post has not independently reviewed the material that investigators found at the scene.
An eyewitness told The Post at the time that the strikes came from the apartheid regime’s side and that there was no indication that fire from Lebanon was coming from anywhere near the journalists.
Video posted at the time also indicated that several reporters at the site were wearing blue bullet-resistant vests marked with the word “Press.” The Associated Press – which had a photographer at the scene – reported that an Israeli shell landed near the group during an exchange of fire with Hezbollah.
Assi suffered “life-changing injuries including the amputation of her leg,” Collins told the news conference. He said the strikes left the other journalists in the group with “shrapnel wounds and other scars.”
When asked who should investigate the attack, Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said that “Israel is obligated to investigate and hold members of its military accountable.” She asked Lebanese authorities to make the technical report they prepared after the incident available to the public.
Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty also asked the United States to investigate the incident because a US national, Dylan Collins, was targeted.
Dozens of journalists have been killed as a result of the war in Gaza – at such a high rate that the Committee to Protect Journalists, which tracks reported deaths and injuries of journalists in conflict, said October was “the deadliest month for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992.” The CPJ said Wednesday that at least 63 journalists and media workers have been killed and 11 injured since the war began Oct. 7.
Collins has said he relives the moments of the attack that killed and injured his colleagues every day. “Every time one of us is killed, the world loses a pair of eyes,” he said.