Investigation Finds Israeli Tank Crew Responsible for Photographer’s Death

Issam Abdallah
Issam Abdallah.

An investigation conducted by the Reuters news agency into the killing of one of its visual journalists in southern Lebanon has concluded that an Israeli tank crew is responsible.

Issam Abdallah, 37, was killed by a 120mm fin-stabilized tank shell round as he lent on a wall that Reuters asserts was fired from an Israeli tank. An Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi, 28, was severely wounded; needing a leg amputation.

Abdallah and Assi were part of a group of media covering cross-border clashes between the Isreal Defense Force (IDF) and Hezbollah on October 13. All present were wearing press jackets and clearly identifiable.

Expert analysis of munitions fragments along with satellite images, survivor accounts, and video recordings led Reuters editor-in-chief, Alessandra Galloni, to declare that an “Israeli tank crew killed our colleague Issam Abdallah.”

“We condemn Issam’s killing,” Galloni says. “We call on Israel to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible for his death and the wounding of Christina Assi of the AFP, our colleagues Thaier Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh, and the three other journalists.”

The press that day had chosen a spot on an open hillside where they were clearly visible. The group of journalists and photographers had been filming smoke and gunfire for an hour before the first shell hit which killed Abdallah.

A second shell was fired at the group less than a minute later which caused a car owned by Al Jazeera to explode. The two strikes in quick succession make it likely it was targeted.

The remnant of the 120mm tank shell found at the scene is used by the Israeli military’s Merkava tanks. Reuters report claims Hezbollah does not have tanks and the Lebanese army’s largest caliber tank round is 105mm.

“The strikes were deliberate and targeted,” AFP says. “They arrived within 37 seconds of each other and just a few metres apart. The journalists were clearly identified as press, away from any military activity. The Israeli army has extensive aerial surveillance resources in the area.”

Direct attacks on journalists who are classed as civilians are illegal under international law. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch say the attack should be investigated as a possible war crime.

“Those responsible for Issam Abdallah’s unlawful killing and the injuring of six other journalists must be held accountable,” says Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa

The IDF and Hezbollah have been exchanging fire on a daily basis since Hamas’ bloody attack on Israel on October 7. Two journalists have died in Lebanon since the war began.