Syrian Conflict Enters Lebanon: Lebanese Cameraman Ali Shaaban Killed
Lebanon demanded Monday a Syrian investigation into the killing of a Lebanese cameraman working for Al-Jadeed television who was shot dead in the northern area of Wadi Khaled near the border with Syria.
Al-Jadeed blamed the Syrian army for the death of cameraman Ali Shaaban, the latest in a series of incidents along the increasingly tense Lebanese-Syrian frontier which has seen Syrian troops crossing the border in pursuit of rebel soldiers since the popular uprising began in Lebanon’s neighbor in March last year.
Border incursions by the Syrian army have led to the killing and wounding of several Lebanese citizens in recent months, prompting March 14 calls for the deployment of the Lebanese Army on the border to protect Lebanese citizens.
Al-Jadeed’s owner Tahseen Khayyat told his TV station that the Syrian attack on the crew had been intentional.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored the cross-border shootings from Syria into Lebanon ahead of a cease-fire deadline in the yearlong conflict that has pushed Syria to the brink of civil war.
Al-Jadeed accused the Syrian army of killing Shaaban, 30, saying it opened fire at the three-member crew’s vehicle which was on Lebanon’s side of the border.
“Ali Shaaban became a martyr after the Syrian army opened fire on Al-Jadeed’s car” in the Wadi Khaled area, the station said in its prime news bulletin Monday night. It said that the station’s vehicle was raked with about 40 bullets and that a bullet that directly hit Shaaban’s heart caused his death.
Hussein Khreiss, the station’s reporter who was with Shaaban, said that the crew had come under heavy gunfire from the Syrian side as they were reporting from inside Lebanon.
Khreiss and another cameraman, Abdul-Azim Khayyat, survived after jumping into a field when their car came under fire, but Shaaban was not able to crawl away because he had been hit, Khreiss said. “We were in Lebanese territory. We saluted the Syrian border guards who shouted at us to go back. We came under heavy fire for two hours from the Syrian side, from the regular Syrian army. Gunshots fell like rain,” said a sobbing Khreiss, speaking in front of Al-Salam Hospital in the northern town of Qobeiyat where Shaaban’s body was taken. The body was later taken to the state-owned Rafik Hariri Hospital in Beirut. Shaaban is to be buried in his southern home village of Mayfadoun Tuesday.
Lebanese leaders on both sides of the political fence condemned the incident, with politicians in the opposition March 14 coalition calling for government action to control the border with Syria.
President Michel Sleiman called on “the Syrian side to conduct the necessary investigations to pinpoint responsibilities and prevent a recurrence of such attacks in the future,” according to a statement released by the president’s office.
Sleiman telephoned Tahseen Khayyat to offer condolences. He also contacted Justice Minister Shakib Qortbawi, the secretary-general of the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council Nasri Khoury, and Lebanon’s Ambassador to Syria Michel Khoury, demanding the “circumstances of the incident be clarified and investigations pursued in order for judicial measures to take their course according to laws in force.”
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 culprits accountable.
“We will inform the Syrian side of our condemnation of this act which we reject and our demand that the attack be investigated and that the perpetrators be held accountable,” Mikati said in a statement released by his office.
“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. I have asked the Lebanese Army Command to open an urgent investigation into the incident,” added Mikati, who is abroad on vacation. The prime minister offered his condolences to Al-Jadeed staff and to Khayyat.
Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri described Shaaban’s killing as “an attack on Lebanese sovereignty” and held the Lebanese government responsible it.
“Hariri ... held the Lebanese government responsible for what happened because it has been turning a blind eye to the series of attacks and violations carried out by Syrian forces on Lebanese territories for months now,” said a statement released by Hariri’s office.
As The Daily Star went to press, there was as yet no statement from the Lebanese Army on Shaaban’s killing.
Meanwhile, Syria blamed “terrorist groups” for the cameraman’s killing.
Syria’s official news agency SANA quoted “a media source” as saying the Al-Jadeed crew, which came under fire in Wadi Khaled, was in a border area that has witnessed “repeated infiltration attempts on a daily basis by gunmen and also shooting by armed terrorist groups on the border guard posts inside Syrian territory.”
“What happened today is that a Syrian border guard post in the mentioned area came, during the presence of Al-Jadeed crew in the area, under heavy gunfire by armed terrorist groups as they do daily in an attempt to infiltrate into Syrian territory to carry out terrorist attacks. The border guards responded to the sources of gunfire,” SANA quoted the source as saying.
Speaker Nabih Berri called Ali Shaaban, the victim’s father, to offer condolences. He also telephoned the Al-Jadeed administration for the same purpose. Ministers and lawmakers from Hezbollah and the Amal Movement visited the house of Shaaban’s parents to offer condolences.
Interior Minister Marwan Charbel said a probe into the attack had been launched in order to uncover the circumstances behind Shaaban’s killing.
“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.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, head of the parliamentary Future bloc, condemned Shaaban’s killing, saying Syrian soldiers deliberately opened fire with the aim of killing.
Lebanon has a history of border violations that have provoked conflict. Do you expect to see Lebanon officially addressing this cross-border provocation?