Beirut, February 13, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply alarmed by an Israeli drone strike in Gaza that seriously injured two Al-Jazeera journalists near the southern city of Rafah on Tuesday and calls for an independent investigation into whether the reporters were targeted.
Al-Jazeera Arabic reporter Ismail Abu Omar and freelance camera operator and photojournalist Ahmed Matar were traveling by motorcycle in Miraj, north of Rafah, while reporting on displaced Palestinians in the area, when an Israeli drone strike hit them, according to media reports. Both journalists were wearing protective vests clearly marked “Press” and carrying their equipment, Al-Jazeera said.
Al-Jazeera said the journalists received emergency surgery at the European Hospital in Rafah. Abu Omar’s right foot and some fingers on his right hand were amputated, his left leg was severely injured, and pieces of shrapnel remained in his head and chest, the channel said. A photograph shared with CPJ via messaging app showed Matar in the hospital with injuries to his face.
“The Israeli drone strike that injured critically Al-Jazeera reporter Ismail Abu Omar and freelance camera operator and photojournalist Ahmed Matar is another horrific example of the high personal price that journalists in Gaza are paying to cover the war so that the world can witness what is happening,” said Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator in Washington D.C. “We are deeply alarmed by this new attack and call for an independent investigation into whether the journalists were targeted, which constitutes a war crime.”
Al-Jazeera said in a statement that it believed the reporters were deliberately targeted, describing the incident as “a full-fledged crime added to Israel’s crimes against journalists, and a new part in the series of the deliberate targeting of Al Jazeera’s journalists and correspondents in Palestine.”
A video posted by Al-Jazeera Arabic, reviewed by CPJ, appeared to show Abu Omar, wearing a blue press vest, lying on the ground soon after the attack with severe leg injuries as people rushed to provide first aid. CPJ also reviewed photographs of the damaged motorcycle that were shared by the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hadath in a messaging app.
On February 9, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to prepare to evacuate Palestinian civilians from Rafah, which borders Egypt and is the last refuge for some 1.4 million displaced people who have fled attacks further north. The United States, United Nations, International Criminal Court, and humanitarians have spoken out against Israel’s planned assault on Rafah.
Since October 7, CPJ has documented 85 journalists and media workers killed while covering the war, including the killing by Israeli drone strikes of Al-Jazeera’s Samer Abu Daqqa on December 15, and of Hamza Al Dahdouh and Mustafa Thuraya on January 7. CPJ has called for independent investigations into the attacks.
CPJ’s email to the North America Desk of the IDF seeking comment did not immediately receive a reply.