Shireen Abu Akleh: US-Palestinian journalist shot dead in Israeli army West Bank raid

President Mahmoud Abbas says he holds Israeli forces totally responsible

The US called for an immediate and transparent investigation into the death of a veteran Palestinian-American journalist who was fatally shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Jenin.

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, was a prominent reporter for Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel. The Palestinian Health Ministry confirmed she died soon after being shot.

The US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the incident must be "investigated transparently".

"We're encouraging both sides to participate in that investigation so that we can get down to why this happened," she said.

Palestinian and Qatari officials, as well as Al Jazeera, blamed Israel.

A producer for Al Jazeera, Ali Al Samoudi, was wounded in the same incident but was in a stable condition.

Videos circulating online show Abu Akleh with blood streaming from her head after being shot. People can be seen scrambling to carry her to a car. She was declared dead by doctors at a hospital.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said an "immediate and thorough" investigation must be conducted, and called Abu Akleh's death an "affront to media freedom everywhere."

In the footage, Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked with the word “PRESS”.

The Israeli military said its forces came under attack from heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and fired back.

The military said it was “investigating the event and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen”.

It later backtracked. “At the moment, it is not possible to determine from which fire Abu Akleh was killed," Lt Gen Aviv Kohavi, chief of staff, said, adding he regretted Abu Akleh's death. He said a team had been appointed to conduct an operational investigation into the incident.

The Israeli military denied deliberately attacking the press.

“The [army] of course does not aim at journalists,” a military official told AFP.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that based on the information they had already gathered, “there is a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death.”

Israeli officials said there was video footage of Palestinian gunmen boasting that they had killed a soldier, but that no Israelis were wounded in the incident, indicating they shot a journalist.

However, Al Samoudi rejected the account of events and said the military’s suggestion that the journalists were shot by militants was a “complete lie”, according to the Associated Press.

Journalists with the body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, at a hospital in Jenin, occupied West Bank.  AFP

He said they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early on Wednesday. All were wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would see them and know that they were there, he said.

Al Samoudi said the first shot missed them, then a second struck him and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army.

Mourners, including journalists, carry the body and flak jacket of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. Reuters

Shaza Hanaysheh, a reporter with a Palestinian news website who was also among the journalists, gave a similar account in an interview with Al Jazeera, saying there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area.

She said that when the shots rang out she and Abu Akleh ran toward a tree to take shelter.

“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell to the ground,” Hanaysheh said. “The soldiers did not stop shooting even after she fell. Every time I extended my hand to pull Shireen, the soldiers fired at us.”

Human rights organisation B'Tselem said it had geolocated the video Israel posted, and it could not possibly show the gunfire that killed Abi Akleh.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held Israeli forces fully responsible for the reporter’s death.

The Palestinian Authority called Abu Akleh's killing an “execution”, and part of an Israeli effort to obscure the “truth” about its occupation of the West Bank.

Qatar's Assistant Foreign Minister Lolwah Al Khater said that Abu Akleh was “shot in the face” while wearing a press flak jacket, in an act she condemned as “state-sponsored Israeli terrorism”.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera also criticised Israel for Abu Akleh’s death.

“We call on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague, Shireen Abu Akleh,” Al Jazeera said.

The US envoy to the UN said the killing of the Palestinian-American must be "investigated transparently."

"We're encouraging both sides to participate in that investigation so that we can get down to why this happened," US ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said.

Washington's "highest priority is protection of American citizens and the protection of journalists," she added.

State Department spokesman Ned Price added on Twitter "we are heartbroken" by Abu Akleh's death.

"Those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere," he said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the Israeli government had offered to work on a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority into Abu Akleh’s death.

“We have offered the Palestinians a joint pathological investigation,” Mr Lapid tweeted. “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”

A short time later, however, Mr Bennett said that the Palestinian Authority had rejected the offer of a joint postmortem examination.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said he was "sad to learn of the death" of Abu Akleh and called for an investigation into the circumstances.

Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, called for an "international independent investigation on those who have committed this crime, and to make them face and to pay the price for what they did".

Israel's UN ambassador, Gilad Erdan, said Abu Akleh was "killed during a counter-terror operation and we express sorrow for her loss".

"Her death is a tragedy, but no one should use it for political gains, especially those who violate human rights on a daily basis," Mr Erdan said in a statement.

Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem and began working for Al Jazeera in 1997. She regularly reported on-camera from across the Palestinian territories.

Also on Wednesday, an 18-year-old Palestinian was shot dead by Israeli forces near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said. Thaer Khalim Muslet Al Yazouri, 18, was shot in the heart in Al Bireh, the ministry said.

An Israeli army representative told AFP that troops “fired rubber bullets” during unrest in the area.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war and the Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their intended future state.

About three million Palestinians live in the territory under Israeli military rule. Israel has built more than 130 illegal settlements across the West Bank that are home to nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers, who have full Israeli citizenship.

The Israeli army has stepped up operations in Jenin, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several of the assailants blamed for deadly attacks on Israelis in recent weeks were from the area.

Thirty Palestinians and three Israeli-Arabs have died during the same period, an AFP tally shows, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

Updated: May 12, 2022, 4:41 AM
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