Two mortars fired by an Israeli tank claimed the life of a Reuters photojournalist two months ago and injured six of his colleagues who were standing nearby, an investigation published by the global news outlet revealed on Thursday.
The report says the mortars that killed Reuters photojournalist Issam Abdallah on October 13 were fired by Israeli forces into Lebanon while the military was carrying out cross-border combat operations in response to the October 7 terrorist attack led by the Palestinian group Hamas.
The mortars were fired in “rapid succession” and landed in a field near where Abdallah and his colleagues were assembled. The first mortar killed Abdallah and seriously injured his colleagues from Reuters, Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse (AFP), the report claimed.
An explosion was heard on the Reuters video feed before it cut to black. A female photojournalist was severely injured. pic.twitter.com/jJGfwHGxC9
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 13, 2023
Reuters said it spoke with “more than 30 government and security officials, military experts, forensic investigators, lawyers, medics and witnesses” to reach its conclusion that Israeli forces were responsible for the incident. The news outlet also said it reviewed “hours of footage from eight media outlets in the area,” along with “hundreds of photos from before and after the attack,” including high-resolution satellite images.
The first mortar fired into Lebanon struck a hill where Abdallah and his six colleagues were assembled, causing the fatal injury to the Reuters photojournalist and seriously wounding the other journalists. The second mortar fired into Lebanon landed near a car used by Al Jazeera, setting it on fire.
At the time of the incident, the journalists were wearing ballistic vests, helmets and other protective material. The vests clearly said “PRESS,” and similar signage was also prominently displayed on vehicles used by the news caravan.
NEW: Footage aired on Al Arabiya shows the immediate aftermath of a shelling along the Israel-Lebanon border that killed Reuters cameraman Issam Abdallah and injured six other journalists on Friday.
(Warning: Graphic video) pic.twitter.com/Nub4A9BoEq
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) October 13, 2023
Reuters sent a team of investigators to the precise scene where the incident occurred, and also collected materials like shrapnel, clothing and eyewitness photographs. The material included a large piece of metal that forensic investigators in the Netherlands later determined was “the tail fin of a 120-millimeter tank round” that was fired from Israel into Lebanon.
The news outlet said it presented its findings to government and military officials in Israel. A spokesperson for the Israeli Defense Forces simply responded by saying, “we don’t target journalists,” but did not elaborate further.
“The evidence we now have, and have published today, shows that an Israeli tank crew killed our colleague Issam Abdallah,” Alessandra Galloni, the editor-in-chief of Reuters, said in a statement. “We condemn Issam’s killing. We call on Israel to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible for his death and the wounding of Christina Assi of the AFP, our colleagues Thaier Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh, and the three other journalists. Issam was a brilliant and passionate journalist, who was much loved at Reuters.”
AFP said its own probe into the maiming of its journalists in Lebanon led to similar conclusions outlined in the Reuters story.
“It is absolutely essential that Israel provides a clear explanation for what happened. The targeting of a group of journalists who were clearly identified as media is both inexplicable and unacceptable,” Phil Chetwynd, the global news director at AFP, said in a statement.
AFP has published a video of its own that includes detailed analysis of the type of shells fired toward @Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and six of his colleagues (including two AFP crew members).
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) December 7, 2023
Reuters shared its findings with Al Jazeera prior to the report’s publication on Thursday, and officials at the Qatar-based news channel said it “underscores Israel’s alarming pattern of deliberating targeting journalists in an attempt to silence the messenger.”
Following the October 13 incident, Israeli officials pledged the government would review the matter. Reuters said government officials have yet to make their findings public.
“This is not the first time that Israeli forces have apparently deliberately attacked journalists, with deadly and devastating results,” Ramzi Kaiss, a Lebanon researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “Those responsible need to be held to account, and it needs to be made clear that journalists and other civilians are not lawful targets.”
Evidence collected by Human Rights Watch found 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,” the organization wrote on Thursday.
The organization also said there was “no evidence of a military target near the journalists’ location,” and that Israeli forces “knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians.”
“This was an unlawful and apparently deliberate attack on a very visible group of journalists,” Kaiss said.
The intentional killing of civilians during combat operations is widely recognized by international governments as a war crime.
Disclosure: The author of this story worked as a Reuters employee from 2012 to 2013.