RT announces war reporter award in honor of slain Syrian correspondent Khaled Alkhateb
“Khaled became a war reporter not because he wanted to make a career, earn more money, or even because of his dedication to his profession, but because he loved his homeland, and he loved the truth,” RT’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan said in a video statement, filmed for a commemorative ceremony at the company’s Moscow broadcasting center.
“We will award the prize to resilient, courageous war correspondents, whose work, which endangers their lives, and demands unparalleled selflessness, helps – whether this year, a year or a decade down the line – to shed light on the horrors that war brings to a land.”
Dignitaries from diplomatic missions of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and Bahrain joined the RT Arabic channel staff for Alkhateb’s send-off.
“He traveled to many conflict areas, he helped children from his hometown, and he gave up his life for a righteous cause,” said Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riyad Haddad.
“People like him sacrifice their lives to become a torch will light the path for his homeland, and preserve its humanity.”
Alkhateb,25, was killed alongside Syrian General Muhsin Jammiah in Al-Sukhnah in a town north of Palmyra by anti-tank rocket fire while filming a story on the army’s battle with Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL).
His cameraman, Muutaz Yaqoub, and several other Syrian army staff also sustained injuries and had to be treated in hospital.
“We were filming the interviews, and then the images for the report,” Yaqoub told RT by phone from Damascus. “A tank we were standing next to fired one, then a second shot towards the Islamic State fighters, and immediately there was a reply. It was only one shell and it landed in the exact spot he was standing, along with the officer. I was about five meters away from them.”
Yaqoub, who says that Alkhateb was a “brave and kind man with a big future”, told RT that he tried to dissuade his colleague from going to the frontline, but was emphatically told: “Whatever happens, I will go.”
Funeral of Khaled AlKhatib. His mother's tears tell the story of all Syrian mothers who lost their sons because of foreign-backed terrorism. pic.twitter.com/YY7gqrvUVA— Hanan Shamoun (@HananShamounNL) July 31, 2017
His mother also knew – and feared – his brave streak.
“He phoned me in the morning and said he was in Homs on his way to Al-Sukhnah and asked for my prayers. I prayed for him and said ‘Please take care. Don't take risks, and don't try to be a hero,’” Lydiah Horiah, told RT. “He sent me kisses and smilies. I said ‘May God bliss and protect you. Please take care,’ and he sent me kisses. This was the last thing I said to him.”
Horiah described the agonizing hours she endured after her son’s phone suddenly became unreachable, and said she immediately suspected “something was wrong.”
“No one called me nor told me he died, I wouldn't know without going into his Facebook. Everyone knew except for me, waiting and thinking,” she said.
A well known local journalist, Alkhateb only started working with RT in April this year. He also pursued multiple other interests – such as studying IT – partly out of his natural curiosity, partly just to get by in the war-torn country.
“He is a martyr of the free word, of the rules he followed in life, and of a youth snuffed out. He was building his life to become an example to other young people like himself. He had the whole world in the palm of his hand,” said his father Ghassan Alkhateb.
Akhateb is the first person to die while on duty for RT and the first journalist to be killed in Syria this year, but the 74th since the start of the war in 2011, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).
“We are appalled by yet another death of a journalist in Syria,” said IFJ president Philippe Leruth in a statement. “Our thoughts are with Khaled Alkhateb’s family, loved ones and colleagues. The IFJ demands that the armed groups in Syria fulfill their obligation under international law to protect journalists on the ground and allow them to report freely and safely.”