JERUSALEM – Israeli police decided on Saturday to investigate the behavior of their agents who attacked the funeral of a murdered Al Jazeera journalist, causing mourners to briefly drop the coffin during the ceremony in Jerusalem.
Police officers beat bearers with batons at the start of Friday’s funeral procession of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces on Wednesday, according to witnesses during a raid on the occupied West Bank. The Israeli military says Palestinian gunmen were in the area and it is not clear who fired the deadly bullet.
The shocking scenes at the funeral and death of the 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist drew worldwide condemnation and calls for investigation, including from the United States and the United Nations.
In a statement Saturday, the Israeli police said their commissioner has ordered an investigation to be completed in the coming days. “The Israeli police support its police officers, but as a professional organization that wants to learn and improve, it will also learn lessons from the incident,” the statement said.
Police say they used force when hundreds of “rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police”.
The attack on the funeral added to a sense of sadness and outrage after the death of Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist and household name throughout the Arab world. They also illustrated the deep sensitivities about East Jerusalem – which is alleged by both Israel and the Palestinians and has led to repeated acts of violence.
Before the funeral, a large crowd gathered to escort her coffin from a hospital in East Jerusalem to a Catholic church in the nearby Old City. Many of the mourners held Palestinian flags and the crowd began to shout, “We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Shireen.”
Shortly afterwards, the Israeli police intervened, pushing and clubbing the mourners. As the helmeted riot police approached, they hit pallbearers, causing a man to lose control of the box as it fell to the ground. Police tore Palestinian flags from people’s hands and fired stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
On Friday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US government was “disturbed by images of Israeli police entering the funeral procession” of Abu Akleh, who was also a US citizen. “Every family deserves to allow their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unhindered manner,” he tweeted.
A unanimous condemnation came Friday from the UN Security Council, which in a rare statement called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation into her murder”.
Late Friday, the Palestinian prosecutor said preliminary findings show Abu Akleh was killed by deliberate fire from Israeli troops. The prosecutor said the investigation would continue. The Israeli military said earlier Friday that she was killed in a firefight with Palestinian militants, and that it could not determine the source of the shot that killed her.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority and has urged it to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the deadly bullet. The PA has declined, saying it will conduct its own investigation and send the results to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.
The PA and Al Jazeera, which has long had a tense relationship with Israel, have accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh. Israel denies the charges.
Abu Akleh was a member of the small Palestinian Christian community in the Holy Land. Palestinian Christians and Muslims marched side by side on Friday in a show of unity.
She was shot in the head Wednesday morning during an Israeli military strike in the West Bank city of Jenin.
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