Church leaders condemn Israeli forces over attacks at Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral

The late Palestinian journalist’s coffin fell close to the ground as pallbearers were struck by police batons in Jerusalem

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Church leaders on Monday castigated Israeli security forces over their “violent intrusion” during the funeral of veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, after police attacks against mourners in Jerusalem left dozens wounded.

“We, the bishops and the faithful of the Christian Churches in the Holy Land, hereby condemn the violent intrusion of the Israeli police,” said Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem and the most senior Catholic official in the sacred city.

Israeli police hit pallbearers with batons and used smoke grenades and rubber bullets against mourners attending the funeral of Ms Abu Akleh, who was shot dead last week while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank.

Surrounded by leaders of multiple Christian denominations, Mr Pizzaballa accused Israeli forces of “disproportionate use of force” which amounted to “a severe violation of international norms”.

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said their medics treated 33 people wounded at the funeral on Friday.

The Israeli police said “rioters hurled stones and other objects” at officers outside St Joseph Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem, where the funeral procession began.

Footage shows some plastic bottles being thrown at the heavily-armed police officers, though hospital staff and funeral attendees have denied stones were used.

Abu Akleh’s coffin fell close to the ground as pallbearers were struck by police batons.

CCTV footage from inside the hospital shows riot police entering the building and moving through the hospital corridors.

The actions of the Israeli security forces were described as “shocking” by Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s human rights chief.

“The Israeli use of force, which was being filmed and broadcast live, appeared to be unnecessary and must be promptly and transparently investigated,” she said on Saturday.

Thousands of mourners gathered for the funeral of Abu Akleh, 51, a Jerusalem native who had reported for the Al Jazeera network for decades.

The Latin Patriarch said he felt “great sadness, great incomprehension” at the security forces’ handling of the procession.

Abu Akleh was shot in the head in Jenin, in the northern West Bank, while wearing a flak jacket marked “PRESS” and a helmet.

Journalists at the scene and other witnesses said she was shot by an Israeli soldier. The Bellingcat investigative news outlet on Saturday said its analysis of footage from Jenin “appears to support” their claim.

After initially pinning the blame on Palestinian militants, Israel has since raised the prospect that a soldier may have killed Abu Akleh and said it will investigate the incident.

Updated: May 16, 2022, 11:33 AM