NEW YORK — The Committee to Protect Journalists expressed concern today over allegations by several television crews that Israeli warplanes had attacked them, effectively shutting down live television coverage from southeast Lebanon.
Crews from four Arab television stations told CPJ that Israeli aircraft fired missiles within 80 yards (75 meters) of them on July 22 to prevent them from covering the effects of Israel’s bombardment of the area around the town of Khiam, in the eastern sector of the Israel-Lebanon border
“Israeli aircraft targeted in an air raid TV crews, especially Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Al-Manar,”said Ghassan Benjeddou, Al-Jazeera’s Lebanon bureau chief. “It’s a miracle that our crew survived the attack,” he told CPJ.
An Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman denied that Israel was targeting journalists. “We are targeting the roads because Hezbollah uses those roads; under no circumstances do we target civilians, including the media,” Capt. Jacob Dallal told CPJ. “Journalists working in those areas are knowingly taking a risk,” he added.
Reuters reported at least 434 Lebanese and 51 Israelis have been killed in conflict. Israel launched an offensive in south Lebanon 16 days ago after a cross-border raid by the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah.
“We are disturbed by these allegations and request an immediate investigation,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists have a right to work in conflict zones and are entitled to the same protection as all other civilians, meaning that they cannot be deliberately targeted.”
While journalists based in Israel have generally been able to cover IDF operations, live television pictures of the Israeli operation along the border from the Lebanese side is now virtually impossible, journalists said. Broadcasters said a few individual TV journalists and media support staff remained in some southern Lebanese towns and villages but getting TV footage out was extremely difficult.
Several international broadcasters and news organizations told CPJ that they had made the Mediterranean port of Tyre their base in the south. Journalists in the city, which is 55 miles (90 kilometers) south of Beirut, said any vehicles, including TV vehicles, traveling between towns and villages were targeted by Israeli planes if spotted on the road. One journalist who ventured into the area was Layal Najib, 23, a freelance photographer for the Lebanese magazine Al-Jaras and Agence France-Presse. She was killed July 23 by an Israeli missile while traveling in a taxi to cover Lebanese fleeing north. She was the first journalist fatality of the fighting.
By July 22, most TV crews with satellite uplink trucks had pulled out of the strategic southern town of Marjeyoun. Those that remained included the international satellite channels Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC), and Al-Manar, the satellite channel affiliated with Hezbollah. Israel has acknowledged targeting Al-Manar installations, accusing the station of propaganda and incitement.
Three vehicles from LBC, which set out from Marjeyoun ahead of the other teams, reached the village of Hasb Bayah, were the Lebanese Red Cross had a presence. But a convoy of Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya and Al-Manar vehicles was chased by Israeli fighter aircraft which fired missiles on the road behind them as they approached an already bombed-out bridge. The journalists said they managed to get away on back roads but the planes followed and again trapped the vehicles by firing missiles at the road ahead of them and behind them.
The journalists and technicians abandoned their vehicles and walked to Hasb Bayah. The following day peacekeepers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon repaired the road and the crews were able to drive back to Beirut, the journalists said.
“Their cars were clearly marked ‘Press’ and ‘TV’,” Nabil Khatib, Executive Editor of Al Arabiya, told CPJ.
Radio broadcasts in Arabic accused several journalists of helping Hezbollah. The radio, Al-Mashraqiyeh, which the journalists believe broadcasts out of Israel, is affiliated with exiled members of the South Lebanon Army, Israel’s military ally during its occupation of south Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s. The radio singled out Al-Jazeera correspondents Katia Nasser and Abbas Nasser, and Al-Arabiya correspondent Ali Noon. CPJ heard a recording of the broadcast against Katia Nasser and Abbas Nasser, in which they were accused of aiding Hezbollah. Abbas was accused of giving Hezbollah favorable coverage in order to secure a job with Al-Manar. The Al-Mashraqiyeh radio announcer said, “the noble Lebanese will hold those who supported Hezbollah in destroying Lebanon to account.”