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Syrian correspondent killed by sniper fire

A screen grab from Syrian state TV shows Yara Abbas reporting from the city of Al-Qusayr. (AFP/Syrian TV)

New York, May 28, 2013--A Syrian correspondent working for the pro-government TV channel Al-Ikhbariya died Monday after her crew's vehicle came under sniper fire, according to official Syrian news sources.

The official SANA news agency reported that Yara Abbas was driving in a car with Al-Ikhbariya cameraman Osama Dayoub and driver Badr Awad near the Al-Daba'a military airbase in the city of Al-Qusayr when a rebel sniper opened fire on the vehicle. Awad told SANA the gunfire damaged the car and caused it to crash. He said the crew was taken to the hospital by forces loyal to the Syrian regime, but that Abbas died before she could be treated. It was not immediately clear from news reports whether the vehicle was marked with a "Press" sign.

The Syrian Information Ministry confirmed SANA's description of Abbas's death. The official account did not make clear whether Abbas died from injuries sustained from sniper fire or from the car crash. The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Abbas had been killed by a sniper near the airbase, but did not offer further details.

"The death of Yara Abbas is a reminder of the grave dangers confronting all journalists in Syria," said CPJ's Middle East and North Africa Coordinator Sherif Mansour. "All sides in the conflict must make every effort to recognize that journalists are civilians protected under international law."

Abbas had gained prominence for her reporting on the front lines while embedded with government forces. In her last report from Al-Qusayr, Abbas can be seen wearing camouflage that closely resembles the uniforms of the Assad army. In the report, broadcast the day before her death, she described clashes between the Syrian army and the rebels, who she called "terrorists" and "mercenaries."

Al-Qusayr has been the scene of intense fighting in recent weeks as Assad forces supported by Hezbollah have attempted to capture the key rebel stronghold that links Lebanon with the Syrian city of Homs. It is not clear whether the Al-Ikhbariya crew was directly targeted or had just been mistaken for combatants.

Al-Ikhbariya honored her in a short video broadcast shortly after her death that called her a "heroic martyr."

At least four other Al-Ikhbariya journalists have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising. CPJ ranked Syria the most dangerous place in the world for journalists in 2012, with at least 39 other journalists killed since the start of the uprising in 2011, including one just over the border in Lebanon, and one who died in a Turkish hospital from wounds he sustained covering the Syrian conflict. Local journalists account for nearly 90 percent of killed cases.

In an unrelated episode, a Sharia court in rebel-held Aleppo arrested Shaaban al-Hassan, a journalist with the weekly Al-Massar al-Houra newspaper, on Saturday, according to news reports. The Syrian Journalist Association said he was arrested because of an interview he had published on May 20 with a prisoner held by the Sharia court which caused a media uproar in northern Syria. No charges have been disclosed.

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