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AP video journalist Simone Camilli killed in Gaza

Thursday - 8/14/2014, 2:30am  ET

This photo taken in August, 2014 shows Associated Press video journalist Simone Camilli on a balcony overlooking smoke from Israeli Strikes in Gaza City. Camilli, 35, was killed in an ordnance explosion in the Gaza Strip, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014 together with Palestinian translator Ali Shehda Abu Afash and three members of the Gaza police. Police said four other people were seriously injured, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa.(AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

ZEINA KARAM
Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) -- Simone Camilli was a consummate storyteller -- a passionate, talented newsman with an eye for detail and the ability to convey events with powerful video images that touched people around the world.

As an Associated Press video journalist, he covered popes in the serene splendor of the Vatican and the horrific violence on battlefields from the former Soviet republic of Georgia to the Middle East.

But he could also capture the simple joy of a smiling child.

Camilli once said a favorite story of his was about a group of clowns performing for young Syrian refugees, bringing moments of happiness to the lives of the boys and girls who fled the civil war.

The 35-year-old newsman was killed Wednesday in the Gaza Strip when leftover ordnance believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up -- the first foreign journalist to die while covering the Gaza conflict that began last month.

Also killed was freelance Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, and four Gaza police engineers. Four people, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa, were badly injured.

"He was a very good cameraman and editor and a lot of his best work was not from the battlefield. He was passionately interested in art and music, and it was in these areas that he turned in some of his best work," said Chris Slaney, former senior producer in Jerusalem.

His father, Pier Luigi Camilli, the mayor of the Italian town of Pitigliano and a former journalist himself, spoke of the work that his son did in "all the most dangerous places."

"I'm proud of my son, who did a job that he had since forever in his blood," the elder Camilli told reporters in Rome. "I spoke to him the other day and told him to be careful. 'Be careful, be careful.' He said, 'No, here everything is calm. Don't worry.'"

Simone Camilli's death came at the peak of a thriving career full of promise.

An Italian national, he had worked for the AP since being hired as a freelancer in Rome in 2005 while taking Islamic studies and learning Arabic at Sapienza University. One of his first assignments was covering the illness of Pope John Paul II.

He covered major stories across Europe, including the independence of Kosovo, the war in Georgia and the arrest of Bosnian Serb military leader Radko Mladic. He also had assignments in some of the world's most violent conflict zones in Lebanon, Iraq, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

"Simone was well known throughout Europe, and especially to our video team in London, where his death has hit AP deeply," Gary Pruitt, the AP's chief executive, said in a memo to the staff.

Pope Francis prayed for Camilli in front of journalists on the papal plane to South Korea.

"I have to make a silent prayer for Simone Camilli, one of yours, who today left us in service. Let us pray in silence," said Francis, clearly moved.

"These are the consequences of war," he added.

Camilli relocated to Jerusalem in 2006, and often covered assignments in Gaza, and moved to Beirut in early 2014.

He was a welcome face in Gaza and loved the story so much that he recently turned down an assignment in Iraq to cover the seaside strip, said Najib Jobain, the AP's chief producer in Gaza. He said Camilli was like a brother.

"He was so happy to be with me working in Gaza," Jobain said. "He was asked, 'Do you want to go to Irbil or Gaza?' He said, 'I'll go to Gaza.'"

Other colleagues remembered Camilli as a warm, charming and sensitive man who wanted to be where the news was.

"From the moment he arrived in the Rome bureau, he wanted to learn everything, falling in love with the job," said Maria Grazia Murru, senior producer in Rome.

"He wanted to learn everything and be the first," she said. "I had the greatest admiration for him and what he was doing. I will miss his enthusiasm, his Roman accent and his smile."

Camilli arrived in Jerusalem in 2006 amid a surge in the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah.

While in Jerusalem, Camilli became involved with two Palestinian partners in running an exhibition space and workshop for young artists, Slaney said.

"Simone was largely self-taught in the visual sense, and whenever I was faced with some tricky problem that with 30 years of professional experience I couldn't solve, he was my go-to guy in editing and image manipulation," he said.

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