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UN finds Israeli forces killed Shireen Abu Akleh

June 24, 2022

The UN's human rights body has found that Israeli security forces fired the shot that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in May. Israel has yet to respond to the findings.

A man holds up a picture of Shireen Abu Akleh
Shireen Abu Akleh was a well-known face in Arabic language media, having covered the region for yearsImage: Mohammed Talatene/dpa/picture alliance

The UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) said on Friday that its independent investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the Palestinian territories on May 11 was the responsibility of Israeli forces. 

"All information we have gathered — including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian Attorney-General — is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the OHCHR, said in a statement.  

The UN office also said it was "deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation." 

The killing of Abu Akleh initially sparked controversy, with both Palestinian and Israeli authorities blaming each other for the shooting of the journalist, as well as her colleague. Several organizations, such as the US broadcaster CNN, later suggested that the evidence pointed to Israeli forces being responsible.  

On Friday, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) rejected the insinuation that Abu Akleh had been killed on purpose, saying "the journalist was not shot intentionally in any way."

The IDF has previously said the bullet could have been fired by one of their soldiers but that the circumstances were unclear.

In a tweet on Friday, they made another request for the Palestinian authorities to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh so that they could carry out an investigation. Palestinian officials have previously said they would not give Israeli forces the bullet.

What was the response to the killing of Abu Akleh?

Abu Akleh's death sparked outrage and condemnation as the journalist had been covering an Israeli security operation in the city of Jenin in the Palestinian territories when she was killed. She had also been wearing a protective helmet and vest with the word "PRESS" written on it.  

The situation became tenser when video footage of Israeli security forces attacking the pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh's coffin at her funeral went viral two days later. 

DW's Tania Krämer on Shireen Abu Akleh funeral procession

Israel had at first offered to launch a joint investigation into the incident with Palestinian authorities, but this offer was rejected.  

"The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet continues to urge Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh's killing," the OHCHR statement said.  

How did the UN describe the course of events?

The UN office's investigators "inspected photo, video and audio material, visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications and interviewed witnesses."

According to their findings, the OHCHR said that Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American citizen with many years of experience reporting from the region, went to the scene of the Israeli security operation but chose a side street "to avoid the location of armed Palestinians inside the camp" as well as proceeding "slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street."  

The UN statement concludes that "several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces."  

One of the bullets injured Sammoudi, while another hit Abu Akleh in the head, immediately killing her. Further shots were then fired when people tried to retrieve the journalist's body.  

ab/kb (Reuters, AFP)