The journalists were covering back-and-forth shelling between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group near the village of Alma Al-Shaab, close to the Israeli border, which began on October 9. Alma Al-Shaab had been the site of repeated clashes since war erupted on October 7 between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza and has close ties to Hezbollah.
Al-Jazeera staffers Elie Brakhya and Carmen Joukhadar had arrived at the site at 4:30 p.m., and were joined at 5pm by Abdallah and two other Reuters journalists Thaer Al-Sudani and Maher Nazeh, Agence France-Press’s (AFP) Christina Assi and Dylan Collins, three eyewitnesses told CPJ. Edmond Sassine, correspondent for Lebanon’s private broadcaster LBCI, arrived at about 5:30 p.m., they said. Joukhadar and Sassine told CPJ that the clashes were taking place 1 to 3 kilometers (0.6 to 1.9 miles) from the hill where the journalists were standing.
Reuters reported that Abdallah was killed while providing a live video signal for broadcasters. The camera was pointed at a hillside when a loud explosion shook the camera, filling the air with smoke, and screams were heard, the news service said. It quoted Israel’s U.N. envoy, Gilad Erdan, as saying, “Obviously, we would never want to hit or kill or shoot any journalist that is doing its job. But you know, we’re in a state of war, things might happen.”
On October 14, Reuters reported that the Lebanese army said Israel fired the missile which killed Abdallah, based on observations by its patrols in the area at the time.
In response, Israel’s military said Hezbollah had fired at a number of border locations and it responded with tank and artillery fire to prevent an infiltration from Lebanon, adding that the incident was under review, Reuters and AFP reported.
Reuters journalist Nazeh said the journalists were filming fire coming from the direction of Israel when Abdallah was struck as he was sitting on a wall near the rest of the group. Seconds later, another missile hit the journalists’ car, he said.
AFP’s Collins told Lebanon’s L’Orient Today news website that the journalists were “filming the smoke from Israeli artillery fire aimed at a distant hill opposite us. We were on open ground, wearing our press vests and helmets … Suddenly we heard small arms fire coming from another direction, near the border. When we turned our cameras in that direction, we were hit by what appeared to be rocket fire from the Israeli side.”
On October 18, Lebanon filed a complaint with the U.N. Security Council over the killing of Abdallah, saying that “Israeli aggression was directed against journalists” on October 13, 2023.
Reuters editor-in-chief Alessandra Galloni issued a statement calling on Israeli authorities to conduct a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation, on Lebanon to share evidence that it said it had gathered, and on the IDF to clarify their terms of engagement with the media in the conflict.
Al-Jazeera also issued a statement that said, “Israel’s targeting of the Al Jazeera team is a blatant disregard of international safety standards that clearly distinguish the press, as they shelled and burned (an) Al Jazeera broadcast vehicle despite our crew’s presence alongside other international media in an agreed upon location.”
Abdallah, 37, worked for more than 16 years with Reuters, covering clashes in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut, and reporting on Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. He was nominated as Reuters Video Journalist of the year in 2020 for outstanding coverage of the Beirut port blast and was part of a larger team that won the award in 2022 for their coverage in Ukraine.
CPJ’s emails to the IDF’s North American Media Desk did not receive any response.
Abdallah was buried on October 14 in his hometown of Khiyam in southern Lebanon.