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Claude Salhani, former UPI photographer in Beirut, dies at 70

Photographer Claude Salhani covered the civil war in Lebanon for UPI in 1980. Photo courtesy of Saleh Rifai
1 of 5 | Photographer Claude Salhani covered the civil war in Lebanon for UPI in 1980. Photo courtesy of Saleh Rifai

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Aug. 22 (UPI) -- Claude Salhani, a former photographer, writer and editor with United Press International who covered Lebanon's civil war and many other turbulent events in the Middle East, has died at age 70.

Salhani's journey and passion for news started at age of 18 in 1970, when he joined Lebanon's leading An Nahar newspaper as a photographer. At the time, Lebanon was still a peaceful and prosperous place, but not for long.

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That year, clashes broke out between the Jordanian Army and Palestinian guerrillas in Jordan that became known as "Black September." It was Salhani's first "real" assignment, followed by many others: the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, the Lebanese Civil War that broke out in 1975, the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, the Dhofar (Oman) war, the 1980-88 Iraq-Iran War, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the 1990-91 invasion of Kuwait and Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution in 1989.

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He also witnessed the collapse of communism in Budapest and Moscow.

In 1973, Salhani joined the French photo agency Sygma and started taking assignments from Time and Newsweek. In 1981, he moved to UPI as head of its photo department in Beirut.

Covering the Israeli invasion of Lebanon a year later was probably the hardest. One day, a 155mm Israeli heavy artillery shell hit the Reuters building in Beirut while Salhani was inside. It took him a while to realize that he escaped with only a sprained ankle.

On another occasion, Salhani was briefly detained by a Palestinian splinter group in Beirut. He was released thanks to PLO leader Yasser Arafat.

Although his coverage of the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marines headquarters in Beirut led to his nomination for a Pulitzer Prize, Salhani had enough. He decided to leave Beirut in 1984 and moved to Brussels, then London and Paris before returning to Washington in 1992.

To many photographers who knew him or worked with him in Beirut, Salhani was "different."

"He wanted the photographers to excel in their work and reach higher levels, especially the young ones," Jamal Saidi, former chief photographer at Reuters, told UPI. "He respected and appreciated them, helping them in every possible way to secure their rights and take credit for their work."

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When he rejoined UPI in 2000 as international editor, Salhani seized the occasion of Beirut hosting the Francophonie summit a year later to return to his home country and cover the special event that helped put Lebanon back on the international map. Rediscovering post-war Beirut, meeting old friends and eating his favorite hummus was enough to heal old wounds.

While in Washington, he also served as editor for the Middle East Times and for the Washington Times and earned a master's degree in conflict analysis and management from Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia.

Salhani frequently appeared on TV as a political analyst specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia, politicized Islam and terrorism. He was known to have never rejected a journalist's interview request "even in the middle of the night."

He is the author of four books: Black September to Desert Storm: A Journalist in the Middle East (University of Missouri,1998); While the Arab World Slept: The Impact of the Bush Years on the Middle East (Xlibris Corp., 2009), Islam Without a Veil: Kazakhstan's Path of Moderation (Potomac Books, 2011) and Inauguration Day: A Thriller (NY: Yucca, 2015).

Salhani died Aug. 13 in Paris.

"He went peacefully and without pain. We are heartbroken to have lost a very special person with a huge heart," his son, Justin, told UPI. "My father will likely be remembered as a noted photojournalist, author and analyst and he would be proud of that...The void he's left behind will be impossible to fill but I wouldn't trade the time we had together for anything."

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Salhani is also survived by his daughter, Isabelle.

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