Ali Shaaban, 29, was killed when Al-Jadeed television crew came under fire in the increasingly volatile border region with Syria.
Akkar – While preparing to cover the armed clashes in Syria near the northern Lebanese border in Wadi Khaled, Lebanon’s Al-Jadeed TV crew became headline news on Monday.
Their car came under a hail of fire and cameraman Ali Shaaban was fatally shot in the chest while cameraman Abdel Azim Khayat and reporter Hussein Khreis managed to take cover.
They were accompanied by Jamal al-Ahmad, brother of a local mayor who was guiding the crew.
Khayat described to Al-Akhbar how they arrived to an area known as the “United Company” near a petrol pipeline.
They had asked for permission to film from the Syrian border guards known as al-Hajjana.
“Members of 'al-Hajjana' nearby began shouting to the soldiers on an opposite hill, asking them to cease fire. But to no avail.”Khayat added that Khreis and al-Ahmad had exited the car and were walking about when suddenly, heavy gunfire struck their vehicle from the nearby Syrian village of al-Armouta.
Shaaban, who was driving the car, was hit and Khayyat managed to escape to the nearby orchards.
Khayyat said their car was hit with many bullets while “members of al-Hajjana nearby began shouting to the soldiers on an opposite hill, asking them to cease fire. But to no avail.”
Hussein Khreis seemed shaken and lost for words. He tried to explain some of the details but was visibly disoriented outside Our Lady of Peace hospital in Kobayat, where Shaaban’s body was taken.
He spoke to Al-Akhbar about those critical moments.
“I am not a soldier to be able to act in such a situation. My colleague Abed [Abdel Azim] Khayyat tried to save the other cameraman and so did the mayor’s brother who was with us. But I could not muster the courage,” he said.
He describes how al-Ahmad was able to reach the car to pull Shaaban out, but “he had died instantly.”
It took the team two hours to be able to report the incident due to bad cellular coverage in the area.
According to the nearby town of al-Haysha’s mayor, when they heard the news, dozens of young men headed to the area accompanied by members of a Lebanese Army intelligence unit. They also came under gunfire when trying to retrieve the body.
Al-Jadeed TV accused the Syrian army of shooting at their news team and killing Shaaban.
Al-Haysha’s mayor could not see any reason for the gunfire from the Syrian side against Al-Jadeed’s crew. He spoke to Al-Akhbar about the clashes that took place in the area Sunday night.
According to his sources an armed group had crossed into Syria, clashed with the al-Hajjana, and taken control of a guard post.
Al-Jadeed TV accused the Syrian army of shooting at their news team and killing Shaaban.The same story was repeated to Al-Akhbar by security sources who revealed that the area is a known route for arms smuggling into Syria. Several clashes had occurred with militants crossing the river that marks the borders the night before.
In the meantime, a Syrian media source told SANA that “a post for the Syrian border guards came under fire by an armed terrorist group at the same time as when the Al-Jadeed TV crew was in the area, seemingly in an attempt to cross the border to carry out terrorist attacks.”
The sources added that “the guards responded to the fire” and expressed “warm condolences to the family of Al-Jadeed cameraman Ali Shaaban and Al-Jadeed TV.”
In light of the failure of the Lebanese security agencies to protect the journalists, Khreis asked them to declare the region a military zone.
An army intelligence officer who arrived at the hospital called the head of army intelligence in north Lebanon, General Amer al-Hassan, to tell him he had offered a military escort to the TV crew before they went to Wadi Khaled.
At the start of the Syrian events last year, a crew from the same TV station was attacked by some young men in Wadi Khaled who destroyed their car.
Surviving cameraman Khayyat had previously been injured during his coverage of the Israeli War against Lebanon in 2006.