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Israeli photographer Oded Balilty has spent the past decade covering events in Israel and the Palestinian territories for the Associated Press. Born in Jerusalem, in 1979, Balilty was awarded the Pulitzer prize for breaking news photography in 2007 for his image of a lone Jewish settler challenging Israeli security officers during clashes in the West Bank settlement of Amona. Although Balilty continues to document the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—from daily clashes to more long term work that includes a seven year project shooting the separation barrier—he has also trained his lens on the quieter and more intimate aspects of street life in and around Tel Aviv, where he is based.

“This region is so saturated by pictures from the conflict so you always look for different stories and events,” says Balilty, who has begun several series on cultural themes within Israel. Since January, the photographer has produced essays on the ultra orthodox communities, including a series on a traditional Hasidic Jewish wedding near Tel Aviv, as well as the funeral of Rabbi Moshe Yehoshua Hager, leader of the Hasidic sect Vizhnitz. and, over the last few days, the preparations for the Passover holiday, which began on Friday evening. “I try to go deeper and deeper into a story to capture things that outsiders do not know about this particular group of people,” he says.

In the same way that he’s trying to find different stories and make different pictures, Balilty says he’s trying to be a different photographer, too. “If I see photographers in one corner, I go away,” he says. “There is no need to take the same picture as five other good photographers. I’m tying to isolate myself and show the story from different angles, not only visually but mentally, to find small, quite moments within a big a crazy story.”

Balilty describes his work as something between art photography and a photojournalism—which is fitting, given the scope of his coverage of Israel. “I’m trying to tell stories with my pictures, but the aesthetics and the way I see things are very important for me,” he says. “The first and most important thing for me is to tell the story.”

And despite his foray into cultural coverage, Balilty maintains his finely-tuned process, approach and aesthetic when photographing more traditional news stories. When a gunman killed seven people in front of a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, last month, Balilty was on hand to document the emotional return of the victim’s bodies to Jerusalem. And as with times past, Balilty handled the assignment with delicate sensibility and artistic intent, elevating his work above the general images typically seen on the wires.

Oded Balilty is a photographer for the Associated Press. He is based in Tel Aviv.

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Late last week Israel launched a targeted air strike, killing Zohair al-Qaisi, militant leader of the Popular Resistance Committee, claiming the group was planning a terrorist strike in Israel. Over the next few days, militant groups in Gaza launched hundreds of rockets into southern Israel in retaliation, and Israel responded with new rounds of air strikes. Israel also deployed an anti-missile system known as Iron Dome, claiming to have shot down more than 40 rockets. Egypt stepped in to help broker a cease-fire that began yesterday, and held for about a day, but both sides have since launched limited attacks. In all, eight people in Israel have been wounded in the fighting, and at least 27 Palestinians have been killed. [36 photos]

A rocket launches from the Israeli anti-missile system known as the Iron Dome, in order to intercept a rocket fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip in Ashdod, Israel, on March 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish bride Nechama Paarel Horowitz fulfils the Mitzvah tantz during her traditional Jewish wedding with Chananya Yom Tov Lipa, the great-grandson of the Rabbi of the Wiznitz Hasidic followers, in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, Israel. The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance [...]

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Oded Balilty / AP

Sudanese Mutasim Qamrawi, 22, shows his scars from the four months he was held in captivity by smugglers in Egypt's Sinai desert at a shelter in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Feb. 16.

Oded Balilty / AP

Sudanese Mutasim Qamrawi is among the growing number of African migrants who say they were captured, held hostage and tortured by Egyptian smugglers hired to sneak them into Israel.

By Jon Sweeney

Mutasim Qamrawi, a 22-year-old from Sudan, is among a growing number of African migrants reporting they were tortured in Egypt's Sinai desert by smugglers despite promises to sneak them into Israel, where they hoped to find freedom and a decent job. The smugglers then extorted the migrants' families for more money.

Human rights advocates say the situation is worsening, because smugglers are using harsher torture methods and demanding more money — as much as $40,000.

Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty in search of safety and opportunity in the relatively prosperous Jewish state. They need the smugglers' help to navigate the rugged Sinai desert and reach Israel's border.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this blog post

Oded Balilty / AP

African refugees keep themselves warm at a shelter in Tel Aviv on Feb. 16. Some 50,000 Africans have entered Israel in recent years, fleeing conflict and poverty.

Oded Balilty / AP

African refugees share breakfast at a shelter in Tel Aviv on Feb. 16.

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