According to an investigation by the AFP news agency, seven journalists who came under fire in southern Lebanon in mid-October were probably hit by an Israeli tank bullet. For the investigation, which AFP published in Paris on Thursday, an ammunition fragment, satellite images, witness statements and videos were also evaluated by experts. Accordingly, the journalists were hit by a 120-millimeter tank bullet, which is only used by the Israeli army in the region.
Reuters video reporter Issam Abdallah was killed in the shelling on October 13th. Six other journalists were injured in a total of two explosions: AFP photographer Christina Assi and her video colleague Dylan Collins, two employees of the Al Jazeera television station and two other Reuters journalists. Assi was seriously injured. She is still in the hospital and her right leg had to be amputated.
The journalists were on the border with Israel to report on the armed clashes in the border area after the brutal attack on Israel by the radical Islamic group Hamas on October 7th. The group was hit near the border village of Alma al-Shaab, where clashes occurred almost daily.
In investigating the attack, AFP worked with the British non-governmental organization Airwars, which investigates attacks on civilians in armed conflict. Immediately after the attack, a large fragment of ammunition was filmed near Abdallah's body. The day after, a local resident, who did not want to be named, collected the fragment and took photos at the scene of the attack. AFP and Airwars had this analyzed by six weapons experts, including former British Army officers and investigators with experience in conflict zones.
All experts agree that the ammunition fragment comes from a 120-millimeter tank shell used in Israeli Merkava tanks. It was apparently shot down near the Israeli village of Jordeikh. There was no fighting in the region at the time. All seven journalists wore helmets and bulletproof vests marked "Press" and stood on a hill behind cameras prominently mounted on tripods.
The first attack hit the journalists at 6:02 p.m. The 37-year-old Abdallah died instantly, the 28-year-old Assi was seriously injured. Her screams can be heard on video: "What happened? What happened? I can't feel my legs." Her AFP colleague Collins later reported that the group was "suddenly" hit after about an hour of filming on the hill. "The attacks came out of nowhere."
Assi said the group positioned itself in an “exposed” position and a “safe distance from the front.” “Suddenly everything went white,” she recalled of the moment of the attack. "I lost feeling in my legs and started screaming for help." As Collins attempted to provide first aid to his colleague, there was a second explosion that hit an Al Jazeera car. Collins was also injured.
According to the research, the two attacks occurred 37 seconds apart and the projectiles struck a few meters apart. The experts therefore rule out that it was an accidental attack. As can be seen from satellite images, Israeli tanks were deployed near Jordeikh at the time of the attack. It is not possible to determine which tank exactly fired the projectiles. AFP was also unable to determine which unit they belonged to or who gave the order for the attacks.
Investigations by human rights organizations Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International confirmed AFP's findings. According to HRW, these were apparently "intentional attacks on civilians", which could be considered a "war crime". International humanitarian law prohibits direct attacks on civilians.
Amnesty also said the incident was "likely a direct attack on civilians that must be investigated as a war crime." "The Israeli military knew or should have known that the seven people were journalists," said Amnesty's deputy Middle East regional director Aya Majzoub. "And yet they were targeted not once, but twice."
The Israeli army did not initially respond to AFP's request for comment on the research. After the attack, a military spokesman said the army deeply regretted the journalist's death and would investigate the incident.
AFP information director Phil Chetwynd said AFP had already "made it very clear" that all possible legal means would be used "to ensure that justice is served for Christina and Issam." According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), at least 63 journalists and media company employees have been killed since the Gaza war began.