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Amnesty: Israeli attack that killed Reuters journalist, wounded others must be investigated as a war crime

BEIRUT (Reuters) -Amnesty International said on Thursday that Israeli strikes that killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six others in south Lebanon on Oct. 13 were likely to have been a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a separate report, said the two Israeli strikes were “an apparently deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime”, saying those responsible must be held to account.

A Reuters investigation published on Thursday found an Israeli tank crew killed Abdallah and wounded the six other journalists by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the group were filming cross-border shelling from a distance.

An Israeli government spokesperson denied Israeli forces targeted non-combatants.

“We do not target civilians,” spokesperson Eylon Levy said in a televised briefing, when asked about reports from Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Amnesty International and HRW. “We’ve been doing everything possible to get civilians out of harm’s way.”

The Israel prime minister’s office did not respond to questions from Reuters on Thursday seeking comment on the reports by HRW and Amnesty International.

The group of seven reporters from AFP, Al Jazeera and Reuters were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with “PRESS” written on them in white letters.

They were on a hilltop in an open area with no tree cover nor other buildings to obscure the reporters from nearby Israeli military outposts. Drones had been buzzing overhead and an Israeli helicopter patrolling.

Directly targeting civilians is forbidden under the laws of armed conflict, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which all U.N. member states have ratified.

Amnesty said its investigation uncovered “chilling evidence pointing to an attack on a group of international journalists who were carrying out their work by reporting on hostilities”.

HRW said that evidence indicated the Israeli army “knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians”.

Commenting on the findings of the Reuters investigation, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry said: “The protection of journalists must be guaranteed at all times. Incidents in which journalists are injured or killed must be fully investigated. This also applies in this case.”

Neither Israel nor Lebanon is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, whose 124 member states accept its jurisdiction in the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Reuters presented the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with its findings that the tank rounds were fired from within Israel and posed additional detailed questions, including whether Israeli troops knew they were firing upon journalists.

Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, the IDF’s international spokesman, said in response: “We don’t target journalists.” He did not provide further comment.

Lebanon said it would refer the Reuters and AFP reports to the U.N. Security Council to be added to a complaint it has submitted saying Israel has killed civilians during ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.

The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Lebanon’s statement.

Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in the government statement issued in response to the reports’ publication, said: “Israeli criminality has no limits”.

(Reporting by Tom Perry and Maggie Fick in Beirut and Dan Williams and James Mackenzie in Jerusalem and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan)

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