BEIRUT: Three crew members of Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV station were killed Monday after they came under fire in the Syrian town of Maaloula, as politicians offered condolences and praised those killed as “martyrs.”
Al-Manar identified the men as reporter Hamzah Hajj Hasan, 29, technician Halim Allaw and cameraman Mohammad Mantash. Several other crew members were wounded, the station said.
With a shaky voice, a teary-eyed anchorwoman announced the death of Hajj Hasan and Allaw, saying “takfiri terrorists” killed the men while they were covering the Syrian army takeover of Maaloula, a predominantly Christian town not far from the Lebanese border.
The station also broadcast footage of the bullet-riddled four-wheel-drive vehicle the three men were traveling in when the attack took place. The vehicle was marked press.
Offering condolences to their families, Al-Manar described the men as “martyrs of freedom.”
Minutes later, the station announced that Mantash had died of wounds sustained during the attack.
The Hezbollah TV channel reported earlier in the day that its crew had come under fire. “The Al-Manar team was shot at by armed groups when [they] were covering the Syrian army’s takeover of the Maaloula town in Qalamoun,” the report said.
The shooting came hours after Hezbollah-backed Syrian forces recaptured at least three border towns including Maaloula, in Qalamoun, a mountainous region bordering Lebanon.
Al-Manar television has provided extensive coverage of the battles in the area in recent months, even accompanying and interviewing Syrian soldiers as the country’s army launched an offensive to root out rebel groups.
Hasan Hamzah, Hajj Hasan’s colleague at Al-Manar, said he would miss him the most, as the two were very close to each other. “We sat next to each other in the newsroom and shared lots of things, we used the same telephone ... and we shared the same lockers,” Hamzah told The Daily Star sadly. “Just today, I wore his shirt and I am still wearing it right now.”
Hamzah said that Hajj Hasan knew he was heading to dangerous places. “He was perseverant and knew what he wanted. His life has ended today ... his death is a loss, but he is one of a series of Al-Manar martyrs, I congratulate him,” Hamzah added.
Al-Manar General Manager Ibrahim Farhat said a remaining group of gunmen had hidden in Maaloula and shot at Al-Manar’s two vehicles, which he said were among other media outlets covering ground developments.
During a brief televised news conference, Farhat declined to say whether Al-Manar was a target. “We will not hesitate to offer martyrs for the sake of the profession ... they were carrying out their professional duty in covering events,” he said.
Farhat also said that the bodies of the men were pulled from the scene and that they would be buried Tuesday in Lebanon.
Lebanese officials condemned the killing.
“The assassination of members of media is a coward act,” President Michel Sleiman tweeted.
Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun extended his condolences to Al-Manar. “We are all blessed by the martyrdom of the martyrs ... and we share the pains of their families,” Aoun said.
Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from Speaker Nabih Berri’s Amal Movement, paid his respects to Al-Manar, hailing the job of the station’s staff as “heroic.”
But the Future parliamentary bloc of Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said the death of the Al-Manar crew members was the result of Hezbollah’s continued military involvement in Syria.
In a statement after its regular meeting, the bloc said Lebanon would only witness actual stability when Hezbollah withdrew from Syria.
Iran’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ghazanfar Roknabadi strongly condemned the attack.
Syria’s Information Minister Omran Zoabi said he congratulated Al-Manar for the three martyrs, wishing the wounded a speedy recovery.