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Smoke rises from the Quneitra area in southwestern Syria on July 16, 2018. Sama TV reporter Mustafa Salamah was covering the Syrian army's attempt to retake the area when he was fatally injured by a shell, according to reports. (Reuters/ Alaa al Faqir)

Syrian reporter killed in clashes in Quneitra province

July 18, 2018 2:34 PM ET

New York, July 18, 2018--The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned the killing of reporter Mustafa Salamah in Syria and urged all parties in the country's ongoing conflict to allow journalists to work freely and safely. Salamah, who worked for the pro-Bashar al-Assad government satellite channel Sama TV, died July 16 after being injured covering clashes between the Syrian army and rebel groups in Quneitra province, according to his employer and the Syrian-government run news agency Sana.

Sama TV reported that Salamah was with coworkers on a hill overlooking the village of Masshara to cover the Syrian army's attempt to retake the area. According to Sama TV and the regional news website The New Arab, a shell landed nearby, critically injuring Salamah. The Quneitra province governor, Hamam Dibiyat, told Sama TV in a phone interview that Salamah died two hours after being injured.

Salama's death comes amid concern for at least 70 journalists trapped in Quneitra and nearby areas who could face reprisal from the Syrian government as its forces advance on the last remaining rebel strongholds in the region, according to CPJ research. CPJ also reported this week on the death of Palestinian-Syrian photojournalist Niraz Saeed in government custody, underscoring the risks facing journalists there.

"Mustafa Salama's death underscores that all journalists working in Syria, no matter what their affiliation, are in the gravest danger--especially in and around Quneitra as fighting there intensifies," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour from Washington, D.C. "All sides to this conflict must do their utmost to allow journalists to report safely on the conflict."

CPJ could not determine the source of the shell that fatally injured Salamah. Both Sama TV and Sana reported that it was fired by rebels formerly affiliated with the Islamist militant group Al-Nusra Front.

The New Arab reported that Syrian government forces were fighting the Free Syrian Army (FSA), an umbrella grouping of disparate rebel factions opposed to Assad, and that Salamah was killed, though the news website did not state that an FSA shell injured Salamah.

Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. At the time of CPJ's most recent prison census, at least seven journalists were in Syrian state prisons; many others are missing. At least 120 journalists have been killed covering the Syrian conflict, according to CPJ research.

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