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Israel: Journalist killed in Lebanon was in ‘active combat zone’

Israel has said that a journalist killed by its military forces in southern Lebanon was “in an active combat zone”.

Appearing to dismiss calls for a war crime investigation into the death of a Reuters journalist and injury of six others under fire from its tanks in October, the Israeli army said on Friday that the incident is under review, but noted that the reporters had placed themselves in a “dangerous” area.

Without directly addressing the death of video journalist Issam Abdallah, 37, on October 13, an Israeli military statement said that Lebanese Hezbollah fighters had at the time attacked across the border and Israeli forces had opened fire to prevent a suspected armed infiltration.

Reuters special report published on Thursday found that an Israeli tank crew killed Abdallah and wounded six reporters  – including Al Jazeera’s Elie Brakhia and Carmen Joukhadar – when they fired two shells in quick succession while the journalists were filming cross-border shelling in and around Alma ash-Shaab.

In the statement, the Israeli military said Hezbollah had launched an attack on multiple targets within Israeli territory along the Lebanese border.

“One incident involved the firing of an anti-tank missile, which struck the border fence near the village Hanita. Following the launch of the anti-tank missile, concerns arose over the potential infiltration of terrorists into Israeli territory,” it said.

“In response, the IDF [Israeli army] used artillery and tank fire to prevent the infiltration. The IDF is aware of the claim that journalists who were in the area were killed.

“The area is an active combat zone, where active fire takes place and being in this area is dangerous. The incident is currently under review,” it said.

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The seven journalists shelled on October 13 were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with “PRESS” written on them in white.

Reporting from the area on the day of the attack, Al Jazeera correspondent Ali Hashem said that the reporters had been targeted.

 

“The tank shell hit them directly. It was horrible. The situation over there was – I can’t explain, I can’t describe it,” he said at the time.

‘War crime’

Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was important that Israel’s inquiry into the killing reach a conclusion and for the results to be seen.

“My understanding is that Israel has initiated such an investigation, and it will be important to see that investigation come to a conclusion, and to see the results of the investigation,” he said.

International rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International said Israel should face a war crimes probe over Abdallah’s death.

“Evidence indicates that the Israeli military knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians,” HRW said. That makes the attack a “war crime” it added.

 

Amnesty also said the Israeli military strikes “were likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime”.

Journalists covering Israel’s war on Gaza are facing unparalleled danger, according to the media rights group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Since the Gaza war broke out, at least 63 journalists have been killed, including 56 Palestinians, four Israelis, and three Lebanese nationals, according to the CPJ.

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