Israeli tank 'likely' opened fire on reporters with a heavy machine gun, says report

L: Relatives, colleagues, and loved ones of Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed while working in southern Lebanon, mourn during the funeral ceremony in the Khiam town of Nabatieh Governorate, Lebanon, on October 14, 2023. 
R: A screenshot taken from a selfie mobile phone video of Reuters visual journalist Issam Abdallah at a site near the village of Alma al-Chaab in Lebanon.
  • A UN investigation found that an Israeli tank deliberately targeted identifiable journalists.

  • Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was killed in the assault, which occurred in Lebanon last October.

  • Amnesty International said the attack likely constitutes a war crime.

A UN inquiry found that an Israeli tank killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah in southern Lebanon on October 13, 2023.

The investigation established that the tank launched two 120mm shells at a group of journalists, including Abdallah, in a clear breach of international law.

Abdallah was identifiable as a Reuters reporter, the inquiry found. He was one of the first of more than 100 journalists killed since October 7, when a Hamas terrorist attack on southern Israel triggered a bloody conflict that has spread across the Middle East.

The report, dated February 27, states that firing upon civilians, notably identifiable journalists constitutes a violation of UNSCR 1701 (2006) and international law.

The assault left six other journalists wounded.

The report calls for a thorough investigation by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) into the circumstances surrounding the attack and a comprehensive review of operational procedures to prevent such incidents in the future.

The attack on Abdallah and his colleagues occurred amid clashes between the Israeli military and Hezbollah along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Eyewitnesses at the scene attested that the journalists were clearly identifiable as members of the media and had been stationary for a significant period before the Israeli tank struck them with two shells.

Subsequent investigations by Reuters, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have corroborated the findings of the UN inquiry based on video evidence, audio analysis, and witness testimonies.

Human Rights Watch noted that the journalists were within the line of sight of Israeli surveillance equipment, suggesting Israeli forces deliberately targeted them, while Amnesty International said that the attack likely constitutes a war crime.

A second report commissioned by Reuters affirmed that the Israeli tank crew "likely" opened machine gun fire on the journalists.

Audio picked up by an Al Jazeera video camera at the scene showed the reporters came under fire from 0.50 caliber rounds of the type used by the Browning machine guns that can be mounted on Israel's Merkava tanks after the shells had been fired.

The report states, "It is considered a likely scenario that a Merkava tank, after firing two tank rounds, also used its machine gun against the location of the journalists."

It, however, says the facts of the shooting were not conclusive.

In October, Reporters Without Borders released a reconstruction of the events that led to Abdallah's death. Several witnesses attested to Abdallah being struck by an Israeli missile during cross-border bombardments. The Israeli army apologized for his death and said it was looking into it, per the video.

"It was quite clear even fairly early on from our investigations that he had been targeted," O'Brien said.

Abdallah was laid to rest in his hometown of Khiam, Lebanon.

BI contacted the Israeli Ministry of Defense for comment about his death.

Israel made a rapid ascent on the 2023 list of journalist killings

Al Jazeera Gaza bureau chief (2nd R), at the funeral of journalists Hamza Al-Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya on January 7, 2024 in Rafah.  Hamza is the son of Wael Al-Dahdouh.

The actions of the IDF have killed 103 journalists since the events of October 7, during which Hamas militants killed 1,143 people in Israel.

RSF, which focuses on safeguarding the right to freedom of information, called the statistics "chilling."

The Committee to Protect Journalists said that 75% of the journalists who were killed worldwide in 2023 fell victim to the actions of Israeli forces.

O'Brien said at least 22 of the journalists killed in Gaza were wearing press insignia or killed by strikes that specifically targeted their homes. On that basis, RSF has made two filings for the International Criminal Court.

While some journalists like Abdallah were directly targeted, many of the slain media professionals were killed during Israeli bombardments.

These included Hamza al-Dahdouh, an Al Jazeera network journalist and cameraman, who was driving in a car with other journalists along a road between Khan Younis and Rafah when an Israeli airstrike killed him in January.

He was the eldest son of Al Jazeera's Gaza bureau chief Wael al-Dahdouh, whose wife, another son, daughter, and other relatives were killed in an Israeli airstrike in October.

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