The bullet that killed American-Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh is too badly damaged to determine who fired the fatal shot, even though it was likely to have been an Israeli soldier, the US State Department said on Monday.
Abu Akleh, a veteran reporter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was killed while covering an Israeli military raid against Palestinian militants near Jenin in the occupied West Bank on May 11. Palestinian authorities on Sunday said they had handed the bullet recovered during her postmortem to US investigators for analysis.
The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank says Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier, a claim backed by a UN investigation into the circumstances of her death. However, the PA refused to hand the bullet to Israel and said it would do so only to independent investigators.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Monday that "after an extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent, third-party examiners, as part of a process overseen by the US Security Co-ordinator, could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet".
"Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion," he said in a statement.
US security officials examined the results of both Palestinian and Israeli investigations and “concluded that gunfire from [Israeli military] positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh".
The US “found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an [Israeli military]-led military operation,” he said.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said forces had responded to heavy fire from gunmen in the city, which houses a crowded refugee camp that has seen regular clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.
"The first to bear responsibility in such events, are the terrorists who operate from within population centers," he said in a statement.
That version of events has been rejected by Palestinians who say there were no armed fighters in the area where Abu Akleh was killed.
"The truth is that the Israeli military killed Shireen according to policies that view all Palestinians — civilian, press or otherwise — as legitimate targets," her family said in a statement.
"The focus on the bullet has always been misplaced and was an attempt by the Israeli side to spin the narrative in its favour."
A senior Palestinian official accused the US of protecting Israel after Mr Price announced the findings.
"The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it," Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, told Reuters.
"We say Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh and it has to be held responsible for the crime it has committed."
Abu Akleh's family said: "All available evidence suggests that a US citizen was the subject of an extrajudicial killing by a foreign government that receives billions of dollars in American military aid each year to perpetuate a prolonged and entrenched military occupation of millions of Palestinians."
The Israeli military said it would continue its investigation into the reporter's death.
A decision on whether to launch a criminal investigation will be made after the conclusion of its operational analysis, it said in a statement on Monday.
The military said the bullet was handed over to the US Security Co-ordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority on Saturday and tested by Israeli experts in the presence of USCC representatives at a forensic laboratory in Israel.
"The bullet remained under the custodianship of [US Army] Lt Gen Michael R Fenzel after receiving it from the Palestinian authorities until it was returned yesterday after the examination was conducted," the statement said.