BEIRUT: Al-Jadeed TV cameraman Ali Shaaban was killed Monday at a border crossing in the area of Wadi Khaled, north Lebanon, security sources said. Al-Jadeed blamed the Syrian army for the incident.
The TV crew was reporting from Khat Naft in the Wadi Khaled area when their vehicle was shot at as it neared the Syrian border town of Armouta, the sources added.
Shaaban, a 32-year-old assistant cameraman, was shot in the chest and transferred to a nearby hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose Twitter account was flooded with messages from people asking the government for immediate action, said he would ask the Syrian government to investigate the shooting and hold the attackers accountable.
“We will inform the Syrian side of our condemnation of this act which we reject act and our demand that the attack be investigated and that the perpetrators be held to account,” Mikati said in a statement.
“We deplore and condemn the shooting from the Syrian side on the Lebanese media crew, particularly that this crew was doing its duty inside the Lebanese border area and I have asked the leadership of the Lebanese Army to open an immediate investigation into this matter to reveal the circumstances,” the prime minister, who is abroad on vacation, said.
Mikati also offered his condolences to Al-Jadeed and the CEO of the media company Tahseen Khayyat.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said Monday that a probe into the attack has been launched in order to uncover the circumstances behind the killing of Shaaban.
“An investigation is under way by security forces and the testimonies of the two journalists who were with [Shaaban] were taken,” Charbel told The Daily Star.
“A Lebanese citizen and journalist was killed on the border and it is a very sad thing, especially that he was shot at [despite being] unarmed,” he added.
Asked about the reason behind the delay of the Lebanese army’s arrival at the scene, Charbel said: “Apparently, there were no army personnel in that area but the army is heavily deployed closer to the Lebanese border.”
Charbel also expressed bafflement as to why gunshots would be fired in the direction of the journalists since they were in contact with the Syrian army on the other side of the border.
The security sources said that Al-Jadeed lost communication with its team at around 3:30 p.m.
Hours after the incident, Al-Jadeed reporter Hussein Khreis said the crew was inside Lebanese territory when gunshots began raining down on them.
“We were on the Lebanese side and we even waved to the Syrian army on the border and then we heard heavy gunfire and tried to rush back but the gunshots came like rain,” Khreis told Al-Jadeed in Qobayat in front of al-Salam Hospital where Shaaban was taken.
Khreis also said that he and cameraman Abed al-Azim Khayyat were not able to pull Shaaban out of the car and had to crawl away under fire without him.
Khreis added that Khayyat tried to pull Shaaban from the car but failed due to heavy gunfire.
“I ask Shaaban’s family to forgive me because I couldn’t do anything,” Khreis said tearfully, adding that residents of Wadi Khaled rushed him and Khayyat to a safe place.
Khayyat was so distraught that he initially found himself unable to speak when questioned by reporters.
Khreis said that “the fire came from the Syrian side but ... I could not verify who [was responsible],” and asked the Lebanese government to declare the area a military zone in order to prevent a recurrence of incidents of this nature.
Shaaban’s body was taken to the hospital after three hours.
Hours after Shaaban's death, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri denounced his killing, describing it as "an assault on Lebanese sovereignty" and holding the Lebanese Government responsible for the attack.
"[Hariri] held the Lebanese government responsible for turning a blind eye to the series of attacks and intrusions which the Syrian forces have carried out against Lebanese territories for months, and [said the government] has yet to take the measures or procedures necessary to put a final end to them and prevent their recurrence,” the statement said.
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also condemned the attack and stressed the need to launch an investigation into the case to uncover the ambiguities surrounding it.
He also urged the government to control the Lebanese-Syrian border and, most importantly, to protect freedoms and journalists.
In the statement, Geagea addressed Al-Jadeed on behalf of the LF, calling on the station's employees “not to allow this heinous assassination to deter them from their struggle for the defense of freedom and objectivity.”
Lebanon’s Photographers' Syndicate condemned what it described as a “criminal assault” against a fellow cameraman, adding that journalists and photographers should not be viewed as part of any internal or external conflict.
“The Photographers' Syndicate condemns the criminal assault on a colleague at Al-Jadeed and calls on all parties and sides not to attack any media persons regardless of the [outlet] they belong to,” a statement by the syndicate said.
A Syrian source told a local TV channel that authorities were investigating the circumstances surrounding the attack and the identity of those who fired at the Al-Jadeed crew.
Human Rights Watch deputy director for Middle East/North Africa, Nadim Houry, said the most important thing was the establishment of a “transparent and credible” investigation into the killing of the cameraman.
In a telephone interview with The Daily Star, Houry said: “The [Lebanese] government needs to push the Syrian authority to provide answers and explanations into the shooting and hold someone accountable.”
He also said that the attack should not be turned in a political issue to be bickered over by the March 8 and March 14 coalitions, adding that the Lebanese government should provide protection and ensure the safety of journalists in dangerous areas.