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A damaged building is seen in Idlib, Syria, on May 25, 2019. Several journalists were recently injured by government forces in Idlib and Hama. (Reuters/Khalil Ashawi)

Journalists injured, fired upon while covering clashes in northern Syria

May 29, 2019 11:25 AM ET

Beirut, May 29, 2019 -- The Committee to Protect Journalists today called on the Syrian authorities to respect the civilian status of journalists covering airstrikes and clashes in the northwestern part of the country.

Since May 22, at least three journalists were injured in attacks by suspected pro-government forces in two separate incidents in the northwestern Syrian governorate of Hama, according to the France-based independent press freedom group Syrian Journalists' Association, the regional press freedom group Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom, news reports, and Facebook posts and videos by the journalists.

"The Syrian government and its allies seem to be intent on not only violating the human rights of the country's people, but also on attacking journalists who cover those violations," said CPJ Middle East and North Africa Representative Ignacio Miguel Delgado Culebras. "As long as no one in power in Syria pays the price, this cycle of impunity and violence will continue."

On May 22, suspected Syrian pro-government forces fired shells at a group of journalists in Hama including a crew from Sky News and American journalist and activist Bilal Abdul Kareem, injuring Abdul Kareem, according to the Syrian Journalists' Association, Skeyes, Sky News, and videos posted on social media by Abdul Kareem.

A drone hovered above the journalists and pinpointed their location, Sky News correspondent Alex Crawford reported. The group was then shelled by what Crawford identified as "125mm shells probably fired from a T-72 Russian battle tank," a model previously identified as being used by pro-government forces in Syria, according to news reports.

Abdul Kareem, who runs the social media-based news agency On the Ground News, was hit in the armpit by shrapnel, according to Sky News and posts on social media by the journalist and On the Ground News. He was taken to a hospital in the town of Kahn Shaykun, according to The Guardian.

Crawford wrote that the news crew was "clearly identified as journalists" and was "deliberately targeted and attacked by Syrian regime forces." No members of the Sky News crew were hurt, according to Crawford's report.

The Syrian Defense Ministry did not immediately reply to CPJ's emailed request for comment.

On May 24, airstrikes injured Mustafa al-Abbas, a reporter for the pro-opposition broadcaster Al-Jisr, and Mustafa al-Khalaf, a reporter for the pro-opposition broadcaster Syria TV, according to the Syrian Journalists' Association, Skeyes, Syria TV, and al-Abbas, who spoke with CPJ. The strikes came amid an escalation in Russian and Syrian government bombings in the region, according to news reports.

The reporters were with a group of journalists covering airstrikes near the Hama town of Kafr Nabudah when the attacks took place, according to those reports.

In two posts on Facebook, al-Khalaf wrote that he believes the journalists' group was "targeted directly" by the fighter jets, which he said pursued the journalists for two kilometers after they fled the area following the first strike, which wounded al-Abbas. In a video post, al-Khalaf can be seen wearing a jacket clearly marked "Press."

"I was hit by shrapnel in my face and shoulders. The protective vest I was wearing covered my chest and abdomen and prevented large shrapnel fragments that could have killed me from hitting me," al-Abbas told CPJ via email.

"We left the area and started looking for a hospital in southern Idlib to stop the bleeding, but all of them were out of service because of the airstrikes," he said. "We had to travel 100 kilometers to find a hospital where I was treated. I also lost my filming equipment."

Al-Khalaf was hit in his right eye by shrapnel, according to the Syrian Journalists' Association and a Facebook post by the journalist. His eye was severely damaged, but his condition is stable, according to the journalists' association.

Separately, on May 17, Ayham Mohammad al-Bayoush, a Syrian reporter for the pro-opposition news websites SY+ and SY24, was burned on his legs and thighs by a bomb dropped during an airstrike south of Idlib, according to the Syrian Journalists' Association, Skeyes, and SY24. He was brought to a local hospital where he was treated for his wounds, according to the journalists' association.

According to the London-based human rights organization Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 844 people have been killed in clashes and airstrikes in the country since April 30.

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