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Syrian government 'targets' international journalists in rebel-held Idlib

US journalist Bilal Abdul Kareem said he was hit with shrapnel after shell fired from Syrian government tank
Bilal Abdul Kareem believes the Syrian government had targeted him and other international journalists on Wednesday (Screengrab)

A US journalist has been struck by a Syrian government artillery shell while reporting alongside journalists from an international news agency in rebel-held Idlib province.

Bilal Abdul Kareem, a contributor to Middle East Eye who runs On the Ground News (OGN), said a piece of shrapnel from a Syrian government tank shell struck him on Wednesday.

Footage posted online by OGN showed Kareem shouting to his colleagues to "get the car" after he was hit.

"The shrapnel came from a tank shell that landed, and I have shrapnel in my back," Kareem told Middle East Eye.

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"The doctor told me to just leave it there, so that is what I am going to do."

Local opposition media outlets reported that Kareem was wounded while working alongside journalists from an international news agency.

A senior source within that international news agency confirmed to Middle East Eye that Kareem was struck and taken to hospital by some of its journalists who were with him at the time.

Middle East Eye reached out to the news agency for an official comment on the incident, but it did not respond at the time of writing.

When asked whether he believes the Syrian government purposely targeted the journalists, Kareem said it was a "possibility".

"We were all together when the attack happened," said Kareem. "I could see it being the case that we were targeted because they have never been friendly to journalists."

The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad has been accused of targeting journalists during the country's ongoing civil war.

In 2012, The Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin and French journalist Remi Ochlik were killed by Syrian government shelling in the city of Homs.

Earlier this year, a US court ruled the Syrian government was responsible for Colvin's death, ordering a $302.5m payout for what it called an "unconscionable" attack that targeted journalists.

Syrian military and intelligence tracked the broadcasts of Colvin and other journalists covering the siege of Homs to the media center, and they then targeted it in an artillery barrage, the court said.

Market bombed

In the last month, Syrian government attacks have increased as Assad's forces attempt to take back control from opposition rebels.

At least 12 people were killed and another 18 wounded when government warplanes hit the militant-held Idlib province town of Maarat al-Numan around midnight (2100 GMT) on Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Some of those government air strikes targeted a busy marketplace in Maarat al-Numan, which was crowded with people out and about after breaking the daytime fast observed by Muslims during the holy month of Ramadan.

This week, international observers also expressed concerns about the possible use of chlorine gas by Syrian government forces.

Meanwhile, government forces battled to repel a militant counteroffensive around the town of Kafr Nabuda in the northern Hama governorate that has left 70 combatants dead in 24 hours, the Observatory said.

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