A journalist died of wounds she sustained in a gunfight between Syrian forces and rebels in Aleppo yesterday, becoming the first Japanese national killed in the 17-month-old conflict.
Mika Yamamoto, a 45-year-old award-winning journalist working for independent news agency Japan Press, was fatally wounded while travelling with the Free Syrian Army, a Foreign Ministry official said. Fellow Japan Press reporter Kazutaka Sato, who was travelling with Yamamoto, told a television news programme that it appeared she was shot by government forces.
"We saw a group of people in camouflage fatigues coming towards us. They appeared to be government soldiers. They started random shooting. They were just 20, 30 metres away or even closer," said Sato.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clash occurred in the Suleimaniya district of Aleppo, scene of heavy fighting between troops and rebels.
Japan Press was not immediately available for comment. Its website said Yamamoto reported from Afghanistan under the Taliban and covered the 2003 Iraq war from Baghdad.
Yamamoto's Iraq reporting won a Vaughn-Ueda prize from the Japanese Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association.
In 2003, she narrowly escaped a US tank attack on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, Jiji news agency said. Kyodo described her as a "pioneer video journalist".
"It is extremely regrettable that a Japanese reporter was … killed," Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said. "We reproach such an act and offer our heartfelt condolences."