Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell
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A car belonging to an Al Jazeera team burns at the site where Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah was killed and six others were wounded by two tank rounds fired from Israel in Alma Al-Chaab, southern Lebanon on Oct. 13, 2023. (Reuters)
Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell
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Debris near the low wall on which Reuters visual journalist Issam Abdallah was leaning when he was hit and killed on Oct. 13, 2023 by a tank round while filming cross-border shelling near the village of Alma Al-Chaab, Lebanon are seen on October 15, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 07 December 2023
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Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell

Strike on journalists in Lebanon: Why AFP probe points to an Israeli tank shell
  • Two strikes hit the group of journalists in quick succession as they were working near the border village of Alma Al-Shaab

PARIS: An investigation by Agence France-Presse into the strike in southern Lebanon on October 13 that killed a Reuters journalist and injured six others, including two from AFP, points to a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this high-tension border region.
Two strikes hit the group of journalists in quick succession as they were working near the border village of Alma Al-Shaab in an area that sees the Israeli army and armed Lebanese and Palestinian groups engaged in near-daily clashes.
Issam Abdallah, 37, was killed instantly. The other journalists present — two other Reuters journalists, two from Al Jazeera, and two from AFP — were all injured. AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28, was seriously wounded, later had a leg amputated and is still in hospital.
AFP jointly conducted a seven-week investigation with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, based on evidence gathered from expert munitions analysis, satellite images, witness testimonies and video recordings filmed before and during the attack.
Its evidence points to an 120-mm fin-stabilized Israeli-made tank round, which is only used by the Israeli army in the high-tension border region.
The probe indicates that the strikes came from the southeast near the Israeli village of Jordeikh where Israeli tanks were operating. The nature of the strikes and lack of military activity in the vicinity of the journalists, combined with Israeli aerial surveillance resources, indicate it was a deliberate and targeted attack.
These findings are supported by separate investigations conducted by rights groups Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International.
HRW concluded that the strikes were “apparently deliberate attacks on civilians, which is a war crime” and which “should be prosecuted or may be prosecuted for war crimes.” Amnesty said the incident was “likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime.”
An Israeli military spokesman said after the strike: “We are very sorry for the journalist’s death,” adding that Israel was “looking into” the incident, without taking responsibility.
“AFP has been very clear that we will take all judicial avenues that we deem relevant and possible to ensure that we can get justice for Christina and Issam,” said AFP Global News Director Phil Chetwynd.

BLUE LINE
Two successive strikes hit the group of journalists at 18:02 as they were positioned above Alma Al-Shaab, a village located around a kilometer from the “Blue Line,” the UN-monitored demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah and local branches of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad had been exchanging fire with Israel on a near-daily basis across the border since Gaza-based Hamas fighters carried out their attacks on October 7.
More than 110 people have been killed on the Lebanese side, mostly Hezbollah fighters, as well as more than a dozen civilians, according to an AFP tally.
Israel says six of its soldiers have been killed.
The seven journalists were at the scene for around an hour before they were hit, positioned on the top of a small hill which offered a wide vantage point to film the Israeli bombardments that had intensified that afternoon.
The Israeli army has confirmed that it was carrying out artillery attacks in response to an infiltration attempt.
Al Jazeera journalists Carmen Joukhadar and Elie Brakhya were first on the scene, followed by AFP’s Dylan Collins and Christina Assi, and Reuters correspondents Issam Abdallah, Thaer Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh.
All were equipped with helmets and bulletproof vests marked “Press” and were standing behind cameras placed prominently on tripods, as shown in a video shot by AFP’s Assi on her phone and posted to her Instagram shortly after 17:00.
“I was live to report the Israeli bombardment, and I had just said that there was no rocket fire from the Lebanese side. We were all on a hill in an open-air area, without any rockets or military sites near us. There was nothing near us,” Al Jazeera’s Joukhadar said.

FIRST STRIKE
The first strike hit at 18:02. It killed Abdallah instantly and seriously wounded Assi. On the video footage, she is heard screaming: “What happened? What happened? I can’t feel my legs.”
“We had spent about an hour filming a distant pillar of smoke to our south, and some limited Israeli shelling along hilltops to our southeast. Just before 6 p.m. we turned our cameras toward the west and suddenly we were hit. It came out of nowhere,” said Collins.
“We were in an exposed area, all of us wearing our helmets, our vests, just doing our job... and we were maintaining a safe distance from the front line,” said Assi. “Suddenly, everything became white... and I lost sensation in my legs, and I started crying for help.”
Collins attempted to provide her with first aid, but 37 seconds later, a second explosion occurred, hitting the Al Jazeera car located a few meters away. Collins, who had been attempting to place tourniquets on Assi’s legs, was wounded.
All the witnesses at the scene insist there was no military activity or artillery fire in their immediate proximity.
The Al Jazeera vehicle hit by the second strike was destroyed by fire. The body of Abdallah, who was directly hit by the first strike, was thrown into a field on the other side of a stone wall near which he had been standing.
A large munition fragment was filmed close to Abdallah’s body immediately after the strike. The day after, a local resident, who did not wish to be named, recovered the fragment and took photos of the scene.
AFP and Airwars had them analyzed by six weapons experts, including former British army officers and experienced conflict zone investigators.
All agree that it was part of a 120-mm fin-stabilized tank shell, typically used by the Israeli army on its Merkava tanks. No other military group or organization in the region uses this type of munition, the analysts said.
“This is the remnants of a tank round, clearly from a Merkava tank,” said one of the experts, Chris Cobb-Smith, a security consultant and former British army artillery officer.
“It’s quite obvious to me because you can see the grooves on the round itself, which indicates it comes from the fin-stabilized family of munitions. When fired, some fins spring out of the back of the round [to] stabilize it in flight, which makes it much more accurate and increases its range,” added Cobb-Smith, who has experience with this type of munition, including with fragments found during the 2008 and 2012 wars in Gaza.

ISRAELI SHELL
Independent investigations by HRW and Amnesty International also pointed to the use of a 120-mm tank shell of Israeli origin.
The Lebanese judiciary is in possession of other fragments from the scene and has opened an investigation to determine the exact circumstances of the strike.
It has yet to release its conclusions. However, a judicial source and two Lebanese military sources told AFP they had established that Israeli tank fire was responsible for the first strike, without giving further details.
The investigation identified at least two Israeli positions from which shells were being fired that afternoon. According to experts who spoke to AFP and Airwars, the most likely source of the strike that hit the journalists was a position to the southeast, near the Israeli village of Jordeikh.
At the time of the strikes, the journalists had their cameras pointed southwest, toward a base near the Israeli town of Hanita and their footage does not capture the projectile that struck them.
They were hit from the side — not from the front — as indicated by the orientation of the debris from the wall near Abdallah, which spread from east to west over around 10 meters.
Earlier footage indicates an Israeli position near Jordeikh. Around 45 minutes earlier, the AFP camera was pointing in this direction and caught the sound of at least one shot, followed by a plume of smoke rising from this location.
Satellite images from that morning and the following day, seen by AFP, show the presence of vehicles with the same dimensions as a Merkava tank very close to Jordeikh.

‘THOSE INDIVIDUALS WERE TARGETED’
The experts agree that the two strikes occurred 37 seconds apart, landing only four or five meters from each other, excluding the possibility of an accidental attack. The experts believe the strikes were deliberately aimed at the same target.
“Anyone who suggests this was an accident or mistake would have a lot of convincing to do,” said a former European military officer who has worked for decades on munitions analysis.
“One round clearly hit the cameraman directly, and the second round hit their vehicle... So I think we can discard the [idea] that this is in any way a random shot, or an unlucky shot,” added Cobb-Smith. “In my assessment those individuals were targeted.”
The investigation sought to establish whether the journalists could have been mistaken for fighters belonging to one of the armed groups active in the region.
Expert Cobb-Smith said this was unlikely given “the sophistication and the capabilities of the surveillance assets of the Israeli army.”
The journalists “were not operating in a military style,” he added. “They were standing out in the open, they had cameras on tripods, they were operating overtly, so one has to question why they were engaged by an armament of this capability.”
Amnesty’s investigation found the journalists had taken all necessary precautions to identify themselves.
“The Israeli military either knew or should have known that the seven individuals were journalists, and yet they still targeted them not once but twice, and therefore Amnesty is saying this is likely a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime,” Aya Majzoub, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for the Middle East, told AFP.

SIMILAR INCIDENTS
The AFP investigation was unable to determine which military unit was involved or what level of command gave the order to shoot. The investigation did not speculate on any possible motivations which could have led the Israeli army to deliberately target a group of journalists.
Several similar incidents have taken place in the region in recent weeks as journalists broadcast live footage of clashes with Israel.
On October 9, a strike fell a few meters from an Al Jazeera team in Marwahin, another border town in southern Lebanon.
A journalist from the Qatari channel was injured on November 13 by Israeli fire while he and other correspondents were covering the bombardments in southern Lebanon, near cars marked “Press,” according to Lebanese state media, a local mayor and the journalists themselves.
And on November 21, two journalists from the pro-Iranian channel Al Mayadeen were killed along with a civilian in Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon, according to official Lebanese media.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati expressed his “strong condemnation” of the incident, saying Israel’s “aim is to silence the media who expose its crimes and its attacks.”
Al Jazeera said it “strongly condemns” what it called the “deliberate targeting of journalists in southern Lebanon by Israeli forces.”
The channel urged the International Criminal Court to “hold Israel and its military accountable for these heinous crimes.”
A spokesperson for Reuters said it was “shocking that a group of clearly identified journalists could be hit by fire in this way.”
The news agency reiterated its appeal to the Israelis to conduct their own probe. “It has been nearly two months since we called for them to investigate, and we have heard nothing since.”
“About as many journalists have died in the past two months as were killed in the entire 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan,” said AFP’s Chetwynd.
“We cannot allow such a culture of impunity to develop and it is absolutely essential that we rally as an industry to ensure that something is done about this.”
As of December 6, the Committee to Protect Journalists said at least 63 journalists and media workers had been killed since the start of the war on October 7.


Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit
Updated 23 February 2024
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Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

Media leaders discuss content, entertainment, news at FII Priority Summit

MIAMI: The Future Investment Initiative Priority Summit in Miami brought together experts from various facets of the media industry on Friday for a panel discussion titled “Captivated by Content: How Brands are Adapting to Trends in Media Consumption.”

The key for any media owner is knowing their audience, but that audience is constantly evolving.

Sam Englebardt, founding general partner of Galaxy Interactive who has been a key investor in the gaming industry, said: “It used to be that we were catering to younger males … and now it’s pretty much the whole world.”

One of the problems with understanding audiences is doing so through data, said Bob Pittman, chairman and CEO of iHeartMedia.

“We’re entering this era of tyranny of the data,” he said, adding that the idea that if you cannot measure something it does not exist is a delusion.

As technology has become more pervasive, said Englebardt, “it’s now more possible than ever to really be everywhere they (audiences) are on whichever platform they have, so what are you going to make that people are going to care about, and how do you build a world that they want to spend conceivably all of their time in?”

However, it can be detrimental if people spend more time in virtual worlds than in the real one.

John Hanke, founder and CEO of mobile apps firm Niantic, is focused on building immersive experiences powered by augmented reality.

As a parent of three, he has struggled with determining how much screen time is acceptable for them, he said.

“It was the thing that motivated me to start thinking about video games that can take place out in the world,” he added.

“It’s up to us to think about how we evolve that technology to help us be better humans and be out in the world interacting with one another, and thankfully, technology is headed in that direction with augmented reality wearable devices.”

The worlds of media and entertainment are starting to exist outside screens, and brands, of course, want a spot.

Before streaming services launched, brands would have 30-second spots between shows and movies, but now they want to be part of the “content conversation where they want to subsidize and really have an engagement that goes beyond what a 30-second spot would be,” said Brent Montgomery, founder and CEO of Wheelhouse.

However, technology does not necessarily have to reinvent or create new business models, said Englebardt. “It’s just (about) how technology can enable what we know works to be applied,” he added.

The emergence of these technologies has also transformed news media, where non-traditional platforms such as user-generated content on Instagram and X have become news sources.

The fundamental change, Pittman said, is consumer convenience. “What people want today is have the information find me. I don’t want to go find the information,” he added.

While that can be both good and bad, media companies have to think about “chasing the consumer, as opposed to expecting them to come to you,” Pittman said.

It is becoming harder to distinguish between real and fake content, leading to a point where audiences will have to presume that everything they watch and hear is fake, said Englebardt.

That, however, is the advantage of news brands, because they are well-trusted and audiences can rely on them to vet the information and present genuine news, said Pittman.

In order to maintain that trust, news brands “will have to forego the clickbait business model and opportunity to monetize fake news,” said Englebardt. 

Pittman said: “Clickbait is directly related to lack of trust. The more clickbait, the less trusted.” As such, businesses have to choose whether they want to get more clicks and be less trusted, or have fewer clicks and be more trusted, he concluded.

 


Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
Updated 23 February 2024
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Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website

Vice to lay off hundreds of staff, close website
  • Company is ‘no longer cost-effective and will transition to studio model’: CEO 
  • Unclear how decision will impact group’s presence in Riyadh

LONDON: Vice Media is set to lay off hundreds of staff and discontinue publication on its website.

An internal memo leaked to the media and later confirmed by Vice CEO Bruce Dixon said that the layoffs would begin early next week.

Dixon announced on Friday that the company is transitioning to a “studio model,” in a decision that was “not made lightly.” Affected employees will be “notified about next steps early next week.”

The decision is a result of Vice Media’s digital content distribution no longer being cost-effective, Dixon said.

The outlet will “look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model,” he added.

Dixon said that Refinery29, a Vice-owned women’s lifestyle-focused site, will continue to operate independently.

“Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey,” he added.

Reports of the layoffs come less than a year after Vice Media, whose assets include Vice News, Motherboard, Refinery29, i-D and Vice TV, was rescued from bankruptcy by a consortium of buyers from Fortress Investment Group.

Dixon said that the group is in “advance discussions” to sell its business and expects to “announce more on that in the coming weeks.”

Valued at $5.7 billion in 2017, Vice, once a prominent media company geared toward a younger audience, operated digital, television and film outlets.

In January last year, the media group announced the opening of a new regional office in Riyadh in an effort to expand its presence in the Middle East.

It remains unclear how the layoffs will impact the group’s presence in the Middle East. Experts say that the company employs about 900 people across all divisions.


Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
Updated 24 February 2024
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Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics

Israel threatens to withdraw from Eurovision over song’s lyrics
  • European Broadcasting Union assessing whether ‘October Rain’ breaches guidelines on political neutrality
  • There have been protests over Israel’s participation in various European countries

LONDON: Israel has threatened to pull out of the Eurovision Song Contest after organizers said they were assessing the lyrics of its entry for political messages.

The song, “October Rain,” is set to be performed by singer Eden Golan at the event in Sweden in May.

It features references to the victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, including the lyrics “they were all good children, each one of them,” according to Israel Hayom newspaper.

The European Broadcasting Union, which organizes the event, said in a statement: “The EBU is currently in the process of scrutinizing the lyrics, a process which is confidential between the EBU and the broadcaster until a final decision has been taken.

“If a song is deemed unacceptable for any reason, broadcasters are then given the opportunity to submit a new song or new lyrics.”

In response, Israel’s national broadcaster KAN, which oversaw the process of selecting the entry and will show the contest in Israel, said: “It should be noted that as far as the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation is concerned there is no intention to replace the song.

“This means that if it is not approved by the European Broadcasting Union, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition, which will take place in Sweden next May.”

KAN confirmed that the lyrics published by Israel Hayom are correct, calling the song a “moving and powerful ballad.”

It also published other lyrics, including the lines “Who told you boys don’t cry / Hours and hours / And flowers / Life is not a game for the cowards,” which Israel Hayom said is a reference to Israeli soldiers. 

KAN said Israeli Culture Minister Miki Zohar had written to the EBU to insist the song’s lyrics be approved, adding that “Israel is in one of its most complex periods, and that this fact cannot be ignored when choosing a song to represent it.”

On X, Zohar said: “The song of Israel, which will be performed by Eden Golan, is a moving song, which expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political."

He said any decision to disqualify “October Rain” would be “scandalous.”

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena — where the participating countries can bring their uniqueness and nationalism to the stage through music.

“I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Several protests about Israel’s participation, including in Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, have been raised, while Iceland’s Association of Composers and Lyricists said the war in Gaza made Israel’s entry “incompatible” with the spirit of the contest.

The annual Eurovision contest has been won four times by Israel, where it is popular and often viewed as a barometer of the country’s standing internationally.

In the past, the EBU has forced the altering of lyrics over politics. In 2009, Georgia withdrew from the contest over its song’s overt references to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia was itself excluded from the contest in 2022 following its invasion of Ukraine, which went on to win Eurovision that year.

Noel Curran, director general of the EBU, said: “Comparisons between wars and conflicts are complex and difficult and, as a non-political media organization, not ours to make.”

He added: “The EBU is aligned with other international organizations, including sports unions and federations and other international bodies, that have similarly maintained their inclusive stance towards Israeli participants in major competitions at this time.”

(With Reuters)

 


Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
Updated 22 February 2024
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Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy

Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board adopts executive strategy
  • New committee for press freedoms established
  • 100-day plan endorsed, several proposals to start immediately

RIYADH: The Saudi Journalists Association’s newly elected board approved on Wednesday an executive strategy which will see several new committees established and a number of proposals fast tracked over the next 100 days.

The move came during the board’s second meeting, led by Adhwan Al-Ahmari, the association’s chairman, which took place on the sidelines of the Saudi Media Forum, held at the Riyadh Hilton Hotel.

Newly established dedicated committees will oversee the implementation of the association’s approved plan. These include an Executive Committee, responsible for setting interim targets and addressing urgent issues, and the Review and Performance Committee, tasked with monitoring performance, assessing committee effectiveness, and ensuring target fulfillment.

The Press Freedoms Committee will establish frameworks, implement plans, and collaborate with international media organizations to safeguard press freedoms.

In order to provide the association with a more robust foundation for its operations, the board has also decided to form a Committee for Developing Financial Resources, which will explore methods to generate income and ensure sustainability.

The Members and Relations Committee will manage the members’ affairs, while the Training Committee is tasked with crafting short-term and long-term training programs, as well as fostering partnerships with local and international universities and training centers.

The Events Committee will create executive plans for the association’s events and will develop a standardized criteria for internal and external activities, while the Content Committee is responsible for establishing a comprehensive editorial policy for all postings, as well as overseeing and improving the association’s website.

The board of directors endorsed a 100-day plan for the implementation of all proposals. The plan will be revised during the board’s next meeting.

The meeting of the board also discussed forming a club for journalists, which will be headquartered in Riyadh and operated by the association.

The board examined legal protection for media workers who are members of the association, in line with its regulations.

The board members emphasized the significance of expanding membership to include media students and trainees, providing them with a special membership to learn from professional journalists.

The meeting also discussed securing funding sources and establishing governance for the association’s fund for supporting journalists.


Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
Updated 22 February 2024
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Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC

Mehdi Hasan joins The Guardian US following abrupt departure from MSNBC
  • Hasan will be regular commentator with first column Wednesday urging US president to end Gaza ‘genocide’
  • MSNBC cancelled ‘The Mehdi Hasan Show’ in January amid widespread criticisms

LONDON: Former MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan is moving to The Guardian US following his sudden exit from the network last month.

The British-American writer and broadcaster, known for his award-winning work, will be a regular columnist for the American online presence of the British newspaper.

Its US editor, Betsy Reed, said Hasan’s addition would enhance the publication’s political commentary, advocacy for human rights and free speech, and accountability for those in power.

Hasan’s debut column, published on Wednesday, urged American President Joe Biden to pressure the Israeli government to end what he described as the “genocide” of Palestinians in Gaza.

Hasan said: “I have been poring over columns in The Guardian since I was a teenager. Now I get to write some of my own, in what is perhaps one of the busiest and biggest news years of my lifetime. It’s a huge honor and a privilege.”

The move came after Hasan’s MSNBC “The Mehdi Hasan Show” was abruptly cancelled by the network. While his programs did not always draw large audiences on MSNBC, his passionate monologues and incisive interviews earned him a significant online following, often leading to viral clips.

The timing of the show’s cancellation raised eyebrows, coinciding with Hasan’s criticism of Israel’s actions during its conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Media analysts and fellow journalists have raised concerns that ending Hasan’s show had left American audiences without a crucial voice in the corporate news landscape during times of ongoing conflict.

The Guardian US has been expanding its team, adding prominent columnists and an investigative unit, reflecting the growing interest in British media among American audiences.