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At Least a Dozen Journalists Killed in First Week of Israel-Hamas War

Lebanese journalists hold portraits of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by Israeli shelling, during a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Oct. 15, 2023.
Lebanese journalists hold portraits of Reuters videographer Issam Abdallah, who was killed by Israeli shelling, during a protest in front of the United Nations headquarters in Beirut, Oct. 15, 2023.

In the first week of the Israel-Hamas war, media covering the conflict are caught in the crossfire with at least a dozen reporters killed and others injured or harassed.

Among the casualties is Reuters video journalist Issam Abdallah who was killed Friday while reporting live near the border in southern Lebanon.

Six other journalists were injured in the same strike including two each from Reuters, Al Jazeera and Agence France-Presse, or AFP.

A United Nations spokesperson said, “If the situation continues to escalate, we will most likely see more such tragedies.”

More than 4,000 people on both sides have been killed since Hamas militants launched an October 7 attack in Israel. Twelve of those, including Abdallah, were journalists covering the attack and counter-offensive, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, or CPJ.

Of the cases the CPJ has documented so far, 10 journalists were Palestinian, one was Israeli and one Lebanese. The New York-based organization says at least two other reporters are missing.

Reuters has said that Abdallah was providing a live video signal for broadcasters when he was killed. His camera was pointed at a hillside at the time of the explosion.

One of the journalists injured in the attack was cited as saying the crew had been filming incoming Israeli fire at the time, and that one strike hit Abdallah and a second hit a vehicle used by the media.

The U.N. envoy to Israel, Gilad Erdan, said Friday that Israel typically investigates civilian deaths. He said that Israel “would never want to hit or kill or shoot any journalist” but that “in a state of war, things might happen.”

Reuters and AFP have both called for an investigation into the incident, and the Qatari broadcaster Al Jazeera has said it holds “Israel legally and morally responsible.”

“Israel’s targeting of the Al Jazeera team is a blatant disregard of international safety standards that clearly distinguish the press,” the outlet said in a statement.

The broadcaster noted the 2022 killing in the West Bank of its correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot while on assignment. Investigations into the case by media and rights groups concluded she was almost certainly hit by an Israeli sniper. Israel later apologized for shooting the American-Palestinian journalist but press freedom advocates have called on the White House to ensure accountability.

Israel Apologizes for the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
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In a separate incident, the BBC has said that some of its journalists were harassed while on assignment in Israel.

Police in Tel Aviv on Thursday stopped a vehicle used by a BBC Arabic team. The journalists identified themselves and the vehicle was marked as TV in red tape, but the crew were ordered out the car and “held at gunpoint,” the BBC reported.

Police searched the journalists and prevented one of the reporters from filming the incident, the BBC said.

In a statement local police said the vehicle looked “suspicious” and indicated the reporters “were searched for fear of possession of weapons.”

“Journalists must be able to report on the conflict in Israel-Gaza freely,” a BBC spokesperson said.

Alongside the safety risks, Israel’s communications minister Shlomo Karhi said Sunday he was seeking a possible shutdown of Al Jazeera’s local bureau.

Karhi accused the Qatari state-owned news outlets of incitement and of exposing Israeli soldiers to potential attack from Gaza, Reuters reported.

“This is a station that incites, this is a station that films troops in assembly areas [outside Gaza] ... that incites against the citizens of Israel — a propaganda mouthpiece,” Karhi said in an interview on Israel’s Army Radio.

The minister said he would bring the move to the cabinet for consideration.

Al Jazeera did not immediately reply to VOA's request for comment.

International humanitarian law protects journalists from direct attacks. But reporting on conflict in a densely populated area brings increased risk, analysts say.

"The main challenge for journalists covering military confrontation in Gaza is their own safety — being killed while covering airstrikes or clashes," CPJ’s Middle East program coordinator Sherif Mansour told VOA.

After the fatal strike on Friday, a U.N. spokesperson said, "Journalists need to be protected and allowed to do their work."

Some information in this report is from Reuters.