MAIFADOUN, Lebanon: Family, friends and colleagues of Ali Shabaan laid to rest Tuesday the Lebanese TV cameraman who was shot dead while on assignment in north Lebanon near the border with Syria a day earlier. The two colleagues who witnessed his final moments maintained the Syrian army was behind the attack.
From Beirut, a hearse transported Shaaban's body to the family home in Hart Hreik in the capital’s southern suburbs before he was taken for burial in Maifadoun, his hometown that lies 10 kilometers from Nabatiyeh, south Lebanon.
“Did he ask you to say ‘hi’ to me before he died?” Shaaban’s twin sister, Fatmeh, inquired of Al-Jadeed reporter Hussein Khreis who, along with Abdel-Azim Khayyat, was with her brother on the same assignment in Wadi Khaled, near the Syrian border. She then collapsed.
Shaaban, 30, was killed when the car he was traveling in along with Khreis and Khayyat was raked with machine gun fire, which Al-Jadeed said came from the Syrian army. Shaaban was the only fatality; Khayyat was lightly wounded.
Shaaban's fiancée circled Maifadoun's Husseiniyeh, kissing his picture.
"The groom fell as a martyr. I won't see him anymore," she wailed as tears flooded the eyes of those gathered to bid farewell to Shaaban.
About 1,000 locals – including family members, friends, lawmakers, politicians, Lebanese diplomats and an army of journalists and cameramen – took part in Shaaban's funeral service in Maifadoun.
The journalists and cameramen held a moment of silence in Shaaban's honor, with photographers laying down their cameras before a huge poster of him.
Earlier in the day, about 200 reporters, cameramen and photographers representing local and foreign media outlets gathered outside the Beirut headquarters of Al-Jadeed TV to pay their final respects to Shaaban.
Television footage of the car Shaaban was killed in showed the vehicle riddled with dozens of bullets.
Shaaban’s colleagues Khreis and Khayyat both pointed the finger at Syria.
“Gunfire was aimed at the crew with the intention of killing and to show that the region is a military zone,” Khreiss told reporters outside Al-Jadeed headquarters in Corniche Mazraa Tuesday.
“If Syria wanted to send a message, it did not have to send this message in blood,” Khayyat told Al-Jadeed TV.
Later Tuesday, Khayyat announced he was quitting as a TV cameraman.
“My family can no longer take the unbearable pressure, particularly since this is the second time I get hurt on an assignment,” Khayyat told Al-Jadeed TV, recalling the day he was wounded by Israeli shelling during the July-August 2006 war between Lebanon and the Jewish State.
Condemnation of the killing of Shaaban, the seventh member of the Lebanese Press to be slain since the end of Lebanon’s Civil War, continued to flood in from all quarters.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani denounced the killing, describing the incident as an affront to press freedom.
"The attack on the press and free speech is condemned and what happened with the Al-Jadeed TV crew in Akkar which led to the martyrdom of Ali Shaaban is a blatant violation of press freedoms," he said in a statement published Tuesday.
Qabbani called on the government to shoulder its responsibilities in terms of “protecting all Lebanese in order to prevent a recurrence of the incident.”
Maronite Patriarch Rai also expressed sorrow over the loss of Shaaban and condemned the killing.
“[Rai] expressed the deepest sorrow over the news of the martyrdom of Al-Jadeed TV cameraman Ali Shaaban in Wadi Khaled by sniper fire from Syrian territory,” a statement from Bkirki’s media office said.
“The patriarch joins his voice with that of the president and authorities in Lebanon in denouncing the incident,” it added.
MP Hasan Fadlallah of Hezbollah, which denounced the attack Monday, called on the government to launch an investigation and bring those behind the attack to justice.
“We call on the Lebanese government to launch a probe into the incident and punish the culprits who targeted the media and its men,” Hezbollah MP Hasan Fadlallah told The Daily Star after offering condolences to Shaaban’s family in Maifadoun.
“The media should be free anywhere they are,” added Fadlallah, who was representing Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah at the funeral.
Future Movement parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora demanded that the Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali be summoned and that a strongly worded objection be directed to Damascus over the killing.
“This happened because of the Lebanese government’s negligence in the face of similar incidents of late in which several innocent citizens fell victim,” Siniora said in a statement.
Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, in a statement from its media office Tuesday, also denounced the “horrendous” killing and targeting of the press, describing the attack as an attempt to “stifle the truth of how this [Syrian] regime deals with the Syrian people.”
The group also called on Lebanese authorities to take all the steps needed to “hold the Syrian regime responsible for this crime, as well as take all the necessary steps to provide an equal level of protection to journalists and civilians on the border.”
“We stress our support to Al-Jadeed in these difficult days and offer our condolences to the administration, reporters, staff and family members of the martyr,” it added.