Israeli tank fire killed Reuters journalist in Lebanon

STORY: This is the moment an Israeli tank shell struck a group of journalists in southern Lebanon on October 13.

The strikes killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six other reporters.

The journalists from Reuters, Agence France-Press and Al Jazeera were there covering cross-border shelling by the Israeli military in response to attacks by Lebanese Hezbollah militants in the wake of the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas.

(Dylan Collins, AFP journalist) “We were very clearly seven well-marked journalists, in press vests, with helmets, with a car that had ‘TV’ on it, standing in an open area, in the face of an Israeli military site. So they knew we were there.”

A Reuters investigation has found an Israeli tank crew killed Issam Abdallah and wounded the other reporters by firing two shells in quick succession from inside Israel.

We gathered evidence from the scene.

We also examined hours of video footage from eight media outlets who were in the area at the time and reviewed hundreds of photos including high-resolution satellite images.

Independent research institute, the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), analyzed the material for Reuters at its laboratories in The Hague.

TNO’s key findings?

A large piece of metal from the scene was the tail fin of a 120 mm tank round made by an Israeli weapons manufacturer and fired from a smoothbore tank gun positioned just across the border.

TNO’s report is consistent with allegations by Lebanon that the Israeli military was responsible for the deadly attack.

(Ziad Makary, Lebanese Minister of Information)

“I believe that it is in the military strategy of Israel to kill journalists so that they kill the truth.”

Asked about the findings of the investigation, the Israel Defense Forces’ international spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, said: “We don’t target journalists.”

International humanitarian law bars attacks on journalists, who have the full scope of protection granted to civilians and cannot be considered military targets.

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Alessandra Galloni condemned Abdallah’s killing.

"We call on Israel to explain how this could have happened and to hold to account those responsible for his death and for the wounding of our colleagues, Thaier Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh."

Since the Gaza war broke out, Israeli forces and Iranian-backed Hezbollah have traded fire on an almost daily basis across the border.

On October 13, reports of armed fighters attempting to infiltrate into Israel from Lebanon and subsequent cross-border shelling drew reporters from multiple news organizations to the area around the village of Alma al-Chaab.

Abdallah took this video moments before his death.

It shows reporters standing on a hilltop in an open area. They were clearly identified as journalists.

Reuters reporter Maher Nazeh was there.

“We chose that place because it’s far away from where the shelling was happening, and because it’s open, and third so that we can be identifiable as journalists. We weren’t alone. There were seven of us, with three cars, wearing our flaks and the cars had TV written on it. So even from a distance of 10 kilometers away, they would be able to distinguish that we are journalists.”

The IDF did not respond to questions about whether it was aware that the crew had clearly identified themselves as journalists.

Once set up, Reuters started feeding live footage to its clients.

The AFP and Al Jazeera teams were also broadcasting live.

After filming for 45 minutes, the Reuters team turned the camera to focus on an Israeli military outpost about two kilometers away.

Less than 90 seconds later, a tank round smashed into Abdallah, killing him instantly and knocking out the Reuters live feed.

37 seconds later, a second round smashed into Al Jazeera's car, setting it ablaze.

The conclusions reached by TNO scientists rely on three key pieces of evidence:

the aluminum tail fin from the tank shell that was found near Abdallah’s body,

previously unpublished video from Italian broadcaster Rai which showed the second strike,

and the audio of both rounds taken from Al Jazeera's live feed.

(Erik Kroon, TNO researcher) "The three key findings of our investigation are: that the two shots were fired from the same position, we were able to narrow down the type of ammunition, which is a 120mm tank round, and through triangulation we were able to determine the firing point, which is just behind the UN Blue Line."

The Blue Line is a demarcation line drawn by the United Nations in 2000 that separates Israel and Lebanon.

Military experts told Reuters the only tanks in the area with 120mm smoothbore guns are Israel's Merkava tanks.

There is no record of Hezbollah operating tanks with 120 mm weapons.

And the biggest tank guns the Lebanese army has are 105 mm.

(Maher Nazeh) “We can’t bring Issam back. Issam is gone. But he hears us, he sees us, and he’s waiting for us to do something for him. Nothing material. But to expose who hit him, who killed him, to the world, for them to admit that they targeted him. That is the only message that we can send to Issam, the only thing that could give him and his family peace.”