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Blinken meets family of Palestinian reporter

July 27, 2022

Relatives of the late journalist Shireen Abu Akleh pressed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for accountability. The US-Palestinian reporter was killed as she covered an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.

A woman walks passed a mural of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on the separation barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem
Shireen Abu Akleh was wearing a flak jacket marked "PRESS" at the time she was shotImage: Mahmoud Illean/AP

Family members of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed on May 11 in Jenin while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, urged US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to demand accountability from Israel.

The family of Abu Akleh secured the meeting with Blinken in Washington after unsuccessfully lobbying for one with US President Joe Biden while he was on a visit to Israel earlier this month.

"We are continuing to call for accountability and for justice for Shireen," Lina Abu Akleh, the journalist's 17-year-old niece, told the AFP news agency following the nearly hourlong meeting with Blinken.

"If there is no accountability for Shireen's murder, then this in a way gives a green light for other governments to kill American citizens," she said.

What did Blinken discuss with Shireen Abu Akleh's family?

Abu Abkleh's niece was joined by the reporter's brother for the meeting. Her niece said Blinken had acknowledged the family's concerns about transparency and had vowed "to establish a better channel of communication."

While meeting the US official on Tuesday evening, they also sought an independent probe from the State Department. They said, however, that Blinken "did not commit to anything" in this regard, with a State Department spokesman later only saying the US was committed to pursuing an investigation that was "credible... thorough... and, importantly, an investigation that culminates in accountability." 

After the meeting, Blinken tweeted that Abu Akleh's "fearless journalism earned her the respect of audiences around the world."

"I expressed my deepest condolences and commitment to pursue accountability for her tragic killing," he added. 

What has the State Department said about Abu Akleh?

On July 4, the US State Department released a statement that said Abu Akleh had likely been killed by Israeli forces, though the bullet was too damaged to say definitively. The US also said Abu Akleh had not been targeted deliberately.

That statement upset Abu Akleh's family, which requested that it be formally retracted. The US based its statement on its reviews and divergent conclusions of Israeli and Palestinian investigations in the aftermath of her death.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price pointed to the July 4 statement when asked about an independent probe during a regular press briefing.

Price said Israel Defense Forces had "the ability to implement processes and procedures to avoid noncombatant casualties" and encouraged them "to see to it that something like this cannot happen again."

Abu Akleh's relatives are also meeting with lawmakers who are keen to press the FBI to investigate the killing.

"If we allow Shireen's killing to be swept under the rug, we send a message that the lives of US citizens abroad don't matter, that the lives of Palestinians living under Israeli occupation don't matter, and that the most courageous journalists in the world, those who cover the human impact of armed conflict and violence, are expendable," said Tony Abu Akleh, her brother.

What happened to Abu Akleh?

Israel has rejected suggestions that it deliberately targeted Abu Akleh, who was reporting for the Qatari state-owned network Al Jazeera.

At the time of the shooting, Abu Akleh was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked "press." Initially, Israeli officials suggested that a bullet fired by a Palestinian could have killed the reporter, but backtracked on those claims. Israel has since said it continues to investigate the death, leading critics to charge that it is stalling in reaching definitive conclusions.

In May, Israeli riot police grabbed pallbearers at Abu Akleh's funeral, swinging batons and kicking men carrying her coffin, with video at one point showing the pallbearers nearly dropping her casket.

"We were deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession today," Blinken said in a statement at the time. "Every family deserves to be able to lay their loved ones to rest in a dignified and unimpeded manner."

Investigations carried out by various news outlets — including the AP, CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post — lend support to those who say Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces. The UN human rights office also reached a similar conclusion.

Abu Akleh was 51 years old at the time of her death and had been covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for a quarter century.

ar/dj (AFP, AP, Reuters)