Palestinians mourn murdered Al Jazeera journalist, blame Israel

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter who covered the conflict in the Middle East for more than 25 years, was shot dead Wednesday during an Israeli military attack in the West Bank city of Jenin. Journalists who were with her, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli troops were firing at them, even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters.

Israel says it is investigating the incident. She initially suggested she may have been shot by Palestinian militants, without providing evidence, but has since returned. Israel calls for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank and works with it on security.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily rejected that proposal, saying “we hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for killing her.”

“They cannot hide the truth with this crime,” Abbas said in a speech as her body lay in state with a Palestinian flag draped over it in the West Bank city of Ramallah, which is home to the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters.

“They are the ones who committed the crime, and because we don’t trust them, we will immediately go to the International Criminal Court,” Abbas said.

The ICC launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes more than a year ago. Israel has rejected that investigation as biased against it.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior aide to Abbas, said the Palestinians would conduct their own independent investigation and convey the results “with high transparency.” He rejected an Israeli request to conduct his own ballistic analysis of the bullet.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Palestinians of denying Israel “access to the fundamental findings necessary to uncover the truth”. He called on the Palestinian Authority to “take no steps to disrupt the investigation or contaminate the investigation process”.

Abu Akleh was killed while reporting an Israeli military attack in Jenin, which has grown into a militant bastion in recent weeks as Palestinians have carried out a series of deadly attacks and Israel has launched military strikes in the occupied West Bank.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately murdering her and promised to take legal action. Reporters with her said there were no Palestinian militants in the area.

Israeli officials initially suggested that Abu Akleh was hit by militant fire and released a video showing gunmen firing at Israeli troops in a narrow alley in Jenin refugee camp. They later returned after an Israeli human rights group released its own video showing the shooting site several hundred yards from where Abu Akleh was killed.

Her death was met with an outpouring of grief over the Arab world. The 51-year-old was known as an experienced air correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel. Her reporting shed light on the harsh realities of Israel’s military rule, which is well into its sixth decade and has no end in sight. She was also an American citizen.

Her body would be taken to Jerusalem, where she was born, for burial on Friday.

The murder sparked international condemnation and widespread calls for accountability. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres called for an “independent and transparent investigation” to ensure those responsible are held accountable.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz promised such an investigation on Wednesday, saying he was in contact with US and Palestinian officials and hoped for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he said. “I have no definite conclusions.”

Asked about Israel’s investigation and offer for Palestinians to participate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday that U.S. officials “stand ready to assist both sides in any way they can.”

“Neither side has requested our assistance at this time and such a request would be necessary to do so,” she said.

Abu Akleh’s death could spark new investigation into Israel’s military justice system, which is under investigation as part of the ICC investigation. It also threatened to further strain the often shaky relations between the military and the international media.

Rights groups say Israel rarely investigates deadly encounters with Palestinians, and when it does, it often imposes lenient sentences.

Her death comes amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence fueled by tensions at an important holy site in Jerusalem.

In recent weeks, Palestinian attacks have killed at least 18 people, as well as more than 30 Palestinians, most of whom were involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces. The Palestinians killed included an unarmed woman and at least two apparent passers-by, fueling criticism that Israel often uses excessive force.

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.

Leave a Comment