Israeli minister pledges probe into killing of Al Jazeera reporter

11 May 2022, 21:44

Lebanon Israel Journalist Killed
Lebanon Israel Journalist Killed. Picture: PA

Shireen Abu Akleh was covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

Israel’s defence minister has promised a thorough investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh and asked that Palestinian officials hand over the bullet that killed her.

Benny Gantz told reporters that Israel has been in touch with US and Palestinian officials and said all parts of the investigation would be made public.

The veteran journalist, one of the satellite channel’s best-known reporters, was shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. The broadcaster and two reporters who were with her blamed Israeli forces.

Israel Journalist Killed
Palestinian mourners carry the body of Shireen Abu Akleh (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Mr Gantz promised a transparent investigation and said he was in touch with US and Palestinian officials.

The Israeli military initially suggested Ms Abu Akleh might have been killed by stray fire from Palestinians, but Mr Gantz was more cautious, saying: “We are trying to figure out exactly what happened. I don’t have final conclusions.”

He said Israel had asked the Palestinian medical team that performed a preliminary post-mortem to hand over the bullet for further examination. The head of the Palestinian forensics institute, Rayan al-Ali, said earlier that the bullet was deformed and he could not yet determine who fired it.

Ms Abu Akleh’s death could draw new scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is being examined as part of a war crimes investigation by the International Criminal Court.

It also threatened to further strain often rocky relations between the army and the international media.

Ms Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for her coverage on Al Jazeera Arabic of the harsh realities of Israel’s open-ended military occupation of the Palestinians, now in its 55th year. She was widely recognised in the West Bank and was also a US citizen.

Her death reverberated across the region, and Arab governments condemned the killing.

Israel Palestinians Journalist Killed
Journalists and medics surround the body of Shireen Abu Akleh (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

There was also an outpouring of grief in the West Bank. In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian autonomy government, Ms Abu Akleh’s body, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered by a wreath of flowers, was carried through the streets.

Hundreds chanted: “With our spirit, with our blood, we will redeem you, Shireen.”

On Thursday, a procession will take the body for burial in Jerusalem, where Ms Abu Akleh was born.

In east Jerusalem, dozens of mourners gathered at the family home to honour her. Lina Abu Akleh, her niece, called her “my best friend, my second mom, my companion”.

“I never thought this day would come, where the news would be about her and she won’t be the one covering the news,” she said.

At one point, a group of Israeli police entered the home, where they were immediately met with shouts of “killers” and “occupiers” and chants to “get out”.

Palestinians gathered outside the family’s house on Wednesday evening, some holding Palestinian flags and posters with the journalist’s photo.

When the group walked towards a main thoroughfare, Israeli police tried to stop them, and scuffles broke ouy. Five Palestinians were hurt and about half a dozen were detained.

Israel Palestinians Journalist Killed
An injured journalist is hugged by one of the colleagues of killed reporter Shireen Abu Akleh (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Ms Abu Akleh was killed by a shot to the head on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, known as a bastion of militants.

Israel has conducted near-daily raids in Jenin in recent weeks following a series of deadly attacks inside Israel carried out by militants from the area.

Mr Gantz said Israeli forces came under indiscriminate fire by Palestinian militants from several directions. The army released a bodycam video of forces in the town while heavy fire is heard in the background.

The minister described the situation as chaotic. He said the soldiers at the scene had all been questioned, but the investigation could only make progress with the co-operation of the Palestinian forensic team.

“I am very sorry for what happened,” Mr Gantz told reporters. “Currently we do not know what was the direct cause of Shireen’s death. We are very decisive to have a full-scale investigation … and we hope to get Palestinian co-operation on this issue.”

Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”. Palestinian journalists who were with Ms Abu Akleh at the time said they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers and they did not see militants in the area.

Ms Abu Akleh’s producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was in hospital in stable condition after being shot in the back. He said any suggestion they were shot by militants was a “complete lie”.

The outcome of Israel’s military investigation will be closely watched. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into possible war crimes by Israel in both the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Israel does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction and has called the investigation unfair and antisemitic. One of its key arguments has been that its military justice system is capable of investigating itself.

The UN Human Rights office urged for an “independent, transparent investigation into her killing. Impunity must end”.

By Press Association

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