Freelance photographer Heidi Levine, who has made a career of covering conflicts, was honored Thursday with the inaugural award for courage named for Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus, who was killed on assignment in Afghanistan.

Levine, an American freelance photojournalist based in Jerusalem, has spent 30 years covering wars and revolutions. She worked with Niedringhaus in Israel, Gaza and Libya, and said it was a great honor to be the first recipient of the award in her name.

"Anja was not just a colleague, she was also my friend," she said in an emotional acceptance speech.

Santiago Lyon, AP's director of photography and a jury member, said that among more than three dozen nominations, Levine's entry "stood out from the others immediately."

"She is truly a remarkable practitioner of photojournalism, a skilled visual storyteller and a warm caring person," Lyon said. "She is very deserving of this award."

The Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award is a $20,000 prize established by the Washington-based International Women's Media Foundation and funded by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

It was created to honor Niedringhaus, who was killed last year on assignment when an Afghan police commander walked up to the car she was in and opened fire. Her friend and colleague, AP reporter Kathy Gannon, was seriously injured in the assault.

At the award ceremony, Gannon said Niedringhaus showed a compassion, empathy and humor in her photos that was also a reflection of how she was as a person.

"Anja's passion was her photography, but she was also so much more," Gannon said.

She added that she can imagine "Anja smiling, happy that Heidi Levine was chosen as the first recipient of this award in her name."

Levine is originally from Boston and moved to Israel in 1983. She began her career with the AP and is now represented by the Sipa Press photo agency.

The prize will be awarded annually to a female photojournalist who reflects the courage and dedication of Niedringhaus.

Niedringhaus started her career as a freelance photographer when she was 16 in her native Germany and went on to cover the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. She joined the AP in 2002 and worked throughout the Middle East, as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan. She was part of an AP team that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for coverage of Iraq.