Probe by rights groups, wire services finds Israeli attack on journalists in Lebanon was likely to have been intentional

The camera that belonged to Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah, who was killed on Oct. 13, is displayed during a press conference. (Reuters)
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Updated 08 December 2023

Probe by rights groups, wire services finds Israeli attack on journalists in Lebanon was likely to have been intentional

  • Evidence suggests that the military had knowledge that the individuals were civilians
  • Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime

LONDON: Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse have found that an Israeli attack on Oct. 13 was likely to have been a deliberate assault by the Israel Defense Forces on civilians, which is a war crime.

The attack killed journalist Issam Abdallah, from Reuters, and injured six others including Carmen Joukhadar and Elie Brakhya from Al Jazeera; Dylan Collins and Christina Assi from AFP; and Thaer al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh from Reuters. 

The reports include witness testimony and are based on analysis of videos, audio, munition remnants, and satellite imagery verified by the organizations, as well as multiple interviews with officials and civilians.

Aya Majzoub, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “Our investigation into the incident uncovers chilling evidence pointing to an attack on a group of international journalists who were carrying out their work by reporting on hostilities.

“Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks are absolutely prohibited by international humanitarian law and can amount to war crimes.”

The findings are in line with the Committee to Protect Journalists’ report “Deadly Pattern,” published in May, which showed lethal force by the Israel Defense Forces had left 20 journalists dead over the last 22 years, without any accountability.

The CPJ said it welcomed the four reports and “reiterates its call for an immediate, independent, and transparent investigation that holds the perpetrators to account.”

Ramzi Kaiss, Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “This is not the first time that Israeli forces have apparently deliberately attacked journalists, with deadly and devastating results.”

The attack on Oct. 13 occurred at around 6 p.m. The group of journalists had gathered as early as 4:45 p.m. in a clearing on a hilltop in Alma Al-Shaab, to film ongoing fighting on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

Journalists from Al Jazeera had conducted two live TV reports, the first at 4:55 p.m. and the second at 5:24 p.m., from the same location. 

Live transmissions by Reuters and AFP were also broadcast on air by several television stations during that period. 

The journalists had remained stationary for over 75 minutes before they were hit, and none of the evidence indicated the presence of any military target near the journalists.

All seven journalists were wearing helmets and blue ballistic vests with labels that said “PRESS,” and were clearly identifiable as journalists.

Footage also shows the group wearing the clearly marked vests and helmets in the same area, near a car marked with “TV” in large letters on its hood.

Five cameras belonging to journalists indirectly captured the attack and its aftermath, shedding light on how the attack was carried out and from where.

Evidence reviewed by the organizations indicates that the Israeli military knew or should have known that the people they were firing on were civilians.

The journalists interviewed said that the first attack struck Abdallah, killing him instantly, and badly injuring photojournalist Assi. 

Just 37 seconds later, the car owned by Al Jazeera was engulfed in flames and destroyed by a second attack, resulting in more injuries to journalists.  

Majzoub said: “Under international humanitarian law, parties to a conflict have a clear obligation to protect civilians, including journalists, and must at all times distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on one hand and fighters and military objectives on the other.”

HRW asserted that “warring parties are obligated to take all feasible precautions to avoid harm to civilians” and must “verify that targets are military objectives.”

It also suggested that Israel’s key allies, Germany, Canada, the US and the UK, “should suspend military assistance and arms sales to Israel, given the real risk that they will be used to commit grave abuses.”

Kaiss said: “The evidence strongly suggests that Israeli forces knew or should have known that the group that they were attacking were journalists.

“This was an unlawful and apparently deliberate attack on a very visible group of journalists.”

British man investigated for hate crime after viral racist rant against Muslim women

Updated 21 April 2024

British man investigated for hate crime after viral racist rant against Muslim women

  • ‘I don’t understand why people stand by and let it happen,’ says witness

LONDON: A hate crime investigation is underway following a viral video of an attack against Muslim women in East London, police confirmed on Sunday.

The incident occurred on Saturday in Romford when a white male, wearing glasses, targeted the group, some of whom were wearing hijabs and pushing shopping trolleys.

The footage, shared by Redbridge Community Action Group, shows the man following the women down South Street, a busy shopping area, while shouting and gesturing aggressively as they attempt to leave the scene.

The man is heard using profanities and labeling the women “Muslim traitors.”

In an outburst caught on camera, he accused one of the women of supporting missile attacks against Israel, adding: “We don’t want you here.” He went on to use an expletive.

The Metropolitan Police has confirmed it is treating the confrontation as a hate crime.

Scotland Yard posted on X: “We are aware and urgently investigating this clearly unacceptable incident. We will be speaking to the victim later.”

Vaseem Ahmed, 55, who was participating in a rally supporting a free Palestine, and located near Barclays Bank on the high street, witnessed the incident.

As police arrived, Ahmed noted that the activists dispersed, with the confrontation occurring as the women headed home.

He told The Independent: “I’d say to him (the white male) ‘If you’re going to be brave, do the same thing in front of some Muslim men (and) then see what the outcome is.’

“Don’t target innocent people; it’s the worst kind of bullying. And grow up. Some of the stuff he was saying was really vile.

“He was so angry and so worked up he couldn’t get his words out properly. It wasn’t the most eloquent rant.”

He added: “I know those women from other demonstrations. I was shocked in the way it happened, but then not shocked at the same time. Islamophobic attacks have skyrocketed since Oct. 7.

“A lot of government ministers and even Rishi Sunak refuse to call out Islamophobia when it happens, and people get emboldened.

“We are visibly Muslim, especially women, (and) they become easy targets. That’s the saddest thing.

“I didn’t see anyone intervene. They might have been concerned for their safety, but all you have to do is shout a few times; you don’t have to put yourself in danger. I don’t understand why people stand by and let it happen.”

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

Updated 20 April 2024

Arab News scoops 4 Merit Winner nods in 59th Society of Publication Designers competition

  • Awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations ‘testament to talent and dedication of design and editorial teams’

LONDON: Arab News, the leading English-language daily newspaper in the Middle East, has won four Merit Winner awards at this year’s Society of Publication Designers competition.

Arab News’ “The Kingdom vs. Captagon” Spotlight piece garnered recognition in the two categories — Custom Feature and Single Page.

The two remaining accolades went to the “Onions’ tears and inflation fears” in the Feature Opener category and the “Guide to Hajj” in Infographic, commended for its exceptional data visualization.

“We are extremely proud to have won four awards at this year’s prestigious SPD competition,” Omar Nashashibi, head of design at Arab News, said.

“To win awards across print, digital, infographics and illustrations is testament to the talent and dedication of the Arab News design and editorial teams in creating engaging content for our readers.”

Since 1965, the annual SPD awards have promoted and celebrated excellence in editorial design, photography and illustration across both print and digital mediums. This year, the competition’s jury received thousands of entries from around the globe.  

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

Updated 20 April 2024

Man who set himself on fire outside Trump trial dies of injuries, police say

  • Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man
  • The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park

NEW YORK: A man who doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire outside the courthouse where former President Donald Trump is on trial has died, police said.
The New York City Police Department told The Associated Press early Saturday that the man was declared dead by staff at an area hospital.
The man was in Collect Pond Park around 1:30 p.m. Friday when he took out pamphlets espousing conspiracy theories, tossed them around, then doused himself in an accelerant and set himself on fire, officials and witnesses said.
A large number of police officers were nearby when it happened. Some officers and bystanders rushed to the aid of the man, who was hospitalized in critical condition at the time.
The man, who police said recently traveled from Florida to New York, had not breached any security checkpoints to access the park.

The park outside the courthouse has been a gathering spot for protesters, journalists and gawkers throughout Trump’s trial, which began with jury selection Monday.
Through Friday, the streets and sidewalks in the area around the courthouse were generally wide open and crowds have been small and largely orderly.
Authorities said they were also reviewing the security protocols, including whether to restrict access to the park. The side street where Trump enters and leaves the building is off limits.
“We may have to shut this area down,” New York City Police Department Deputy Commissioner Kaz Daughtry said at a news conference outside the courthouse Friday, adding that officials would discuss the security plan soon.

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

Updated 20 April 2024

Russian war correspondent for Izvestia killed in Ukraine

  • Izvestia said Semyon Eremin, 42, died of wounds from a drone attack in Zaporizhzhia region
  • Eremin had reported for the Russian daily from hottest battles in Ukraine during the 25-month-old war

Semyon Eremin, a war correspondent for the Russian daily Izvestia, was killed on Friday in a drone attack in southeastern Ukraine, the daily said.

Izvestia said Eremin, 42, died of wounds suffered when a drone made a second pass over the area where he was reporting in Zaporizhzhia region.
Izvestia said Eremin had sent reports from many of the hottest battles in Ukraine’s eastern regions during the 25-month-old war, including Mariupol, besieged by Russian troops for nearly three months in 2022.
He had also reported from Maryinka and Vuhledar, towns at the center of many months of heavy fighting.

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

Updated 20 April 2024

WhatsApp being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s Lavender AI system

  • Targets’ selection based on membership to some WhatsApp groups, new report reveals
  • Accusation raises questions about app’s privacy and encryption claims

LONDON: WhatsApp is allegedly being used to target Palestinians through Israel’s contentious artificial intelligence system, Lavender, which has been linked to the deaths of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, recent reports have revealed.

Earlier this month, Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 Magazine and Hebrew-language outlet Local Call published a report by journalist Yuval Abraham, exposing the Israeli army’s use of an AI system capable of identifying targets associated with Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

This revelation, corroborated by six Israeli intelligence officers involved in the project, has sparked international outrage, as it suggested Lavender has been used by the military to target and eliminate suspected militants, often resulting in civilian casualties.

In a recent blog post, software engineer and activist Paul Biggar highlighted Lavender’s reliance on WhatsApp.

He pointed out how membership in a WhatsApp group containing a suspected militant can influence Lavender’s identification process, highlighting the pivotal role messaging platforms play in supporting AI targeting systems like Lavender.

“A little-discussed detail in the Lavender AI article is that Israel is killing people based on being in the same WhatsApp group as a suspected militant,” Bigger wrote. “There’s a lot wrong with this.”

He explained that users often find themselves in groups with strangers or acquaintances.

Biggar also suggested that WhatsApp’s parent company, Meta, may be complicit, whether knowingly or unknowingly, in these operations.

He accused Meta of potentially violating international humanitarian law and its own commitments to human rights, raising questions about the privacy and encryption claims of WhatsApp’s messaging service.

The revelation is just the latest of Meta’s perceived attempts to silence pro-Palestinian voices.

Since before the beginning of the conflict, the Menlo Park giant has faced accusations of double standards favoring Israel.

In February, the Guardian revealed that Meta was considering the expansion of its hate speech policy to the term “Zionist.”

More recently, Meta quietly introduced a new feature on Instagram that automatically limits users’ exposure to what it deems “political” content, a decision criticized by experts as a means of systematically censoring pro-Palestinian content.

Responding to requests for comment, a WhatsApp spokesperson said that the company could not verify the accuracy of the report but assured that “WhatsApp has no backdoors and does not provide bulk information to any government.”