Reuters photographer Mohammed Salem won the prestigious 2024 World Press Photo (WPP) of the Year award on Thursday for his image of a Palestinian woman cradling the body of her five-year-old niece in the Gaza Strip.

The picture was taken on October 17 at Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where families were searching for relatives killed during the Israeli bombing of the Palestinian enclave. Salem’s winning image portrays Inas Abu Maamar, 36, sobbing while holding Saly’s sheet-clad body in the hospital morgue.

“Mohammed received the news of his WPP award with humility, saying that this is not a photo to celebrate but that he appreciates its recognition and the opportunity to publish it to a wider audience,” Reuters Global Editor for Pictures and Video Rickey Rogers said at a ceremony in Amsterdam.

Palestinian woman Inas Abu Maamar, 36, embraces the body of her five-year-old niece Saly, who was killed in an Israeli strike, at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17. — Reuters
Palestinian woman Inas Abu Maamar, 36, embraces the body of her five-year-old niece Saly, who was killed in an Israeli strike, at Nasser hospital in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on October 17. — Reuters

“He hopes with this award that the world will become even more conscious of the human impact of war, especially on children,” Rogers said, standing in front of the photo at the Nieuwe Kerk in the Dutch capital.

Announcing its annual awards, the Amsterdam-based WPP Foundation said it was important to recognise the dangers facing journalists covering conflicts.

It said 99 journalists and media employees had been killed covering the fighting between Israel and Hamas since the latter attacked southern Israel on October 7 and the former responded by launching a military offensive in Gaza that has killed close to 34,000 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the besieged territory.

Several countries and international unions have criticised Israel’s response to the attack as “disproportionate”.

“The work of press and documentary photographers around the world is often done at high risk,” said Joumana El Zein Khoury, the organisation’s executive director.

“This past year, the death toll in Gaza pushed the number of journalists killed to a near-record high. It is important to recognise the trauma they have experienced to show the world the humanitarian impact of the war.”

Salem, a Palestinian aged 39, has worked for Reuters since 2003. He also won an award in the 2010 WPP competition.

The jury said Salem’s 2024 winning image was “composed with care and respect, offering at once a metaphorical and literal glimpse into unimaginable loss”.

“I felt the picture sums up the broader sense of what was happening in the Gaza Strip,” Salem said when the image was first published in November.

“People were confused, running from one place to another, anxious to know the fate of their loved ones, and this woman caught my eye as she was holding the body of the little girl and refused to let go.”

‘Profoundly affecting’

Salem’s wife had given birth to their child days before he took the shot.

The photograph is “profoundly affecting”, said jury member Fiona Shields, head of photography at Guardian News & Media.

“Once you’ve seen it, it’s kind of seared in your mind,” she said. “It works as a kind of literal and metaphorical message really about the horror and futility of conflict.” “It’s an incredibly powerful argument for peace,” Shields added.

The jury selected the winning photos from 61,062 entries by 3,851 photographers from 130 countries.

GEO photographer Lee-Ann Olwage of South Africa won the story of the year category with images documenting dementia in Madagascar.

The long-term projects category was won by Alejandro Cegarra of Venezuela for the series “The Two Walls” for The New York Times/Bloomberg.

Ukrainian photographer Julia Kochetova won the open format award with “War is Personal”, which documented the war in her country by weaving together pictures, poetry, audio and music in documentary style.

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