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Exclusive AP photo of missiles streaking over Damascus dominates global play

The Damascus sky lights up missile fire as the U.S. launches an attack on Syria targeting different parts of the capital early Saturday, April 14, 2018. Syria's capital has been rocked by loud explosions that lit up the sky with heavy smoke as U.S. President Donald Trump announced airstrikes in retaliation for the country's alleged use of chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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When President Donald Trump tweeted a warning last week about a possible missile strike on Syria, the AP was well ahead in its planning for what would eventually follow.

An AP cross-format team had applied for visas for Damascus a month ago. Last-minute negotiations and a bit of luck led to them being issued two days before air strikes by the U.S., France and Britain were carried out.

And when the missiles started raining down, Hassan Ammar, a Beirut-based photographer, captured the signature image of the Damascus night sky. His photo, which dominated world play, earns the Beat of the Week.

The photo was the culmination of careful preparation in Damascus by the cross-format Beirut team of Hassan,senior producer Bassam Hatoum,reporter Bassem Mroue and Syria stringer Albert Aji. They determined how to best position themelves to report on the strikes,including placing a camera on its tripod on a balcony, hooked to a remote control so it could be operated from inside.

Aji,whose office facing east provided a direct view to the mountain overlooking Damascus,left the office key with the team overnight,allowing an almost theatrical view. Quick work by the team once the attacks got underway resulted in AP dominating in all formats. Ammar’s photo,showing the streak of a missile,drawn out in the long exposure,lancing up into the night, was unmatched by the competition. It was featured on about 100 front pages worldwide. AP video of the night sky was used more than 3,500 times on the first day alone.

“The coverage was driven by good cross-format coordination,planning and communication, both internally and with customers.”

– Senior VP and Executive Editor Sally Buzbee

The AP team captured every significant turn of the story in all formats,many of them live, from the initial missiles to street demonstrations,reaction, a visit to the site of one of the strikes and,on Monday, a trip to the site of the chemical weapons attack. Hatoum coordinated video coverage,with Ammar and Aji shooting footage with phones when they reached the site of a strike. Mroue took photos of the chemical weapons inspectors’ arrival in Damascus.

The team’s work was widely credited on TV,radio,websites and in print worldwide and resulted in several outside media requests for interviews with Ammar for his photos,including by the BBC and European papers.

For his exclusive photo that led a comprehensive cross-format coverage, Ammar wins Beat of the Week.

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