OBITUARY-Reuters’ Issam Abdallah Covered World’s Biggest Events with Bravery and Insight
12:01 JST, October 17, 2023
BEIRUT (Reuters) – Reuters visuals journalist Issam Abdallah, 37, who was killed on Friday while filming Israeli missile attacks at the Israeli-Lebanon border, brought courage, compassion and insight to his work covering some of the biggest news stories of the past decade.
Whether he was reporting on the war against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Russian invasion of Ukraine, or gunbattles on the streets in his native Lebanon, Abdallah excelled at telling the stories of people living through catastrophe, his colleagues recalled after his death on Friday.
“I have learned through all the years of covering conflicts and wars with Reuters from around the region that the picture is not only front lines and smoke, but the untold human stories which touch us all inside,” he wrote to editors last year after a tough assignment in Ukraine.
Abdallah was nominated as Reuters Video Journalist of the year in 2020 for outstanding coverage of the Beirut port blast, providing the world with some of the first and strongest images of the disaster. He was part of a larger team that won the award in 2022 for their coverage in Ukraine.
“He had a passion to tell the stories he saw unfold in front of his eyes. That passion was the same for a papal visit or covering an earthquake,” said Reuters Europe Video Editor Eleanor Biles.
While reporting in some of the world’s most dangerous places, Abdallah had a reputation among his peers as careful and cautious in difficult environments. He worked hard to ensure his own safety and that of colleagues.
During a grueling weeks-long assignment in 2019, Abdallah was one of the first journalists to break news of the surrender of hundreds of Islamic State fighters holed up in their last stronghold in eastern Syria.
“He reported courageously and responsibly,” said Ellen Francis, a Washington Post reporter, who formerly worked for Reuters and deployed with him there.
As his home country Lebanon fell into economic ruin and unending political crisis, it was often Abdallah who cheered the mood in the Reuters Beirut bureau, forging close friendships with colleagues and their families.
He loved to bring colleagues together, often ordering large breakfast spreads for the entire office, and frequently pulling out his camera for a group photo, according to journalists in the news agency’s Beirut bureau.
PASSION AND PROFESSIONALISM
Abdallah was buried on Saturday in his hometown of Khiyam in southern Lebanon next to his father who died last year. He is survived by his mother, two brothers and a sister.
Lebanon’s army has said Israel fired the missile that killed Abdallah, and another Reuters reporter at the scene said he was killed by projectiles fired from the direction of Israel. Israel’s military has said it will investigate. Reuters called on it to conduct a “thorough, swift and transparent” investigation, and said it was “critically important for journalists to be able to report freely and safely.”
Abdallah’s body, covered in a Lebanese flag, was carried in a procession attended by hundreds of mourners. Journalists placed their cameras on the grave to honor his memory and prayers were said.
Abdallah first began providing Reuters with footage some 16 years ago, working as a freelancer while completing his university studies. “His passion was infectious, his professionalism without question and his humanity a shining light in the darkest places,” said Lutfi Abu Aun, foreign affairs news editor at ITN News, who as a Reuters senior producer had hired Abdallah.
That passion was clear to anyone who met him. Abdallah carried a video camera and a camera for still photographs wherever he went, zipping around Beirut on his motorcycle.
He was as comfortable filming stories about the quirky side of everyday life as he was covering the terror of modern warfare. His feature stories, often about Lebanon’s summer music festivals and animals, hinted at the playful humor that endeared him to colleagues.
The first footage he provided was of clashes in Beirut in 2007, and he covered major fighting among Lebanese in the capital the following year.
For Labib Nasir, the Reuters Middle East and North Africa Chief Visuals Producer, Abdallah was at his best covering the chaotic moments after the 2020 Beirut port blast, which devastated much of the city and damaged the Reuters office.
Within minutes of the disorienting explosion Abdallah was providing live video footage while riding his motorbike through dust-filled streets to reach the disaster site, stopping only to interview an injured man along the way.
Upon reaching the port, he gave the world the first view of the city’s destroyed grain silos, providing “that backdrop that has become THE view of that story,” Nasir said.
His work afterwards, documenting the story of Liliane Cheaito, a Lebanese woman paralyzed in the explosion and left unable to speak, had so much impact her family was able to fundraise enough money to take her to Turkey for treatment.
Asked by her family not to take a big camera into her hospital room for the story, he went in with just his phone, introducing himself and asking her permission to film, waiting until she had signaled “yes” with her eyes.
“Issam’s unfaltering devotion to his work and faith in the power of images shall remain engraved in our memory,” said Reuters Global Foreign Policy Editor Samia Nakhoul.
“It is through his own live camera feed that the world witnessed the fatal shell that tragically killed him.”
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