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Israel: 'High possibility' soldier killed Shireen Abu Akleh

September 5, 2022

Israel's army has now said its troops may have accidentally killed the Al Jazeera reporter while shooting at "armed Palestinian gunmen." For months it had said it was impossible to determine who killed her.

Posters of Shireen Abu Akleh who was a well-known face in Arabic language media
Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in MayImage: Ameer Al-Mohammedawi/dpa/picture alliance

The Israeli military said on Monday that there was a "high possibility" that a soldier killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May.

"There is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire that was fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen," Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement published on Monday about an internal investigation of her death. 

Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military operation at a refugee camp in the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

'High possibility' Israeli soldier killed Abu Akleh

The Palestinians blamed Israel for the killing, but Israel initially said the journalist might have been killed by militant fire, and later that it was impossible to determine who had fired the deadly shot. Palestinian accounts and those from other journalists on the scene argued from the start that it was clear which side had shot Abu Akleh.

Now the Israeli investigation, which included interviews with soldiers, analysis of the scene as well as audio and video recordings, found a soldier may have hit her by mistake during an exchange of fire.

"Our conclusion is that it's not possible to determine unequivocally which gunfire killed her, but there's a higher probability that she was hit by an errant shot of an IDF soldier who did not identify her as a journalist," a senior Israeli military officer said.

No soldier to be charged

The IDF said its troops came under heavy fire from all sides and had fired back, including towards the area where Abu Akleh was standing.

Other witness accounts of the incident have disputed that Israeli positions were under fire from the area where the journalists were.

But the IDF says its investigation showed that soldiers had acted according to their rules of engagement and said no one would be charged.

Abu Akleh's family criticized the investigation, saying the military "tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility" for the killing.

"Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it's obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed," they said in a statement.

Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh
Shireen Abu Akleh was a well-known face in Arabic language media, having covered the region for yearsImage: Al Jazeera/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist, was a longtime correspondent for the Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera, and was renowned for her reporting in the Middle East.

Her death sparked outrage and condemnation. She was wearing a bulletproof vest marked "Press" and a helmet when she was shot in the head on May 11. Her colleague Ali Samoudi was also wounded.

Tensions heightened further when video footage of Israeli security forces attacking the pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh's coffin at her funeral went viral days after her death.

Abu Akleh's family push for ICC probe

Monday's announcement by the Israeli military, nearly four months after the killing, largely align with those of several independent investigations completed earlier.

A report from the US State Department in July concluded that she was probably killed by fire from an Israeli position. 

A report from the United Nations human rights office in June said she was clearly identifiable as a journalist when she was shot and killed by a single bullet.

Abu Akleh's family reiterated their call for an independent US investigation and a probe by the International Criminal Court.

lo/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)