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PA Investigation Claims Israeli Forces Deliberately Shot Journalist; Israel Says That's a 'Blatant Lie'

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed. (AP Photo)
Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed. (AP Photo)

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Palestinian Authority on Thursday said its investigation into the shooting death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has proven that an Israeli soldier deliberately shot and killed her while she was covering an Israeli arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin this month.

Israel immediately rejected the findings. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said any claim “that the IDF intentionally harms journalists or uninvolved civilians, is a blatant lie.”

“The IDF is operating against murderous terrorism, which in recent weeks has claimed the lives of 20 people,” Gantz said in a statement. “Many of the terrorists who conducted the attacks came from the Jenin area, which is where the incident took place. We always act with precision, targeting terrorists and taking measures to avoid harm to civilians. We will continue operating in this manner.”

Gantz offered his condolences for Abu Akleh’s death and stressed that Israel is conducting its own investigation.

Palestinian Attorney General Akram Al Khateeb announced the results of the investigation at a press conference in Ramallah. He said the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was a 5.56 mm round fired from a Ruger semi-automatic rifle – a gun often used by snipers, he said.  Despite the claim, the PA refuses to release the bullet for an independent investigation or joint probe with Israel.   

According to the autopsy, the bullet’s entry and exit points suggest that Abu Akleh was shot from behind while attempting to run away from gunfire.

Abu Akleh, a Christian and veteran Palestinian journalist, was killed on May 11 while reporting on an Israeli counterterrorism raid in Jenin, located in biblical Samaria. She was wearing a helmet and vest clearly marked with the words “PRESS” on it when she was shot.

Israel said its forces came under heavy fire from Palestinian terrorists during the raid and initially claimed Abu Akleh was likely struck by Palestinian gunmen. Israel later said it was possible that Abu Akleh was killed by errant Israeli fire, and last week identified a soldier’s rifle that could have shot the fatal bullet.

Palestinian officials and witnesses, including Abu Akleh’s producer who was shot in the back, have said there was no gunfight between Israeli and Palestinian forces anywhere near Abu Akleh when she was killed. They acknowledge that clashes took place in Jenin on May 11 but said they were too far away to have been responsible for her death.

"There were no armed confrontations or manifestations of an armed clash with the stationed occupation forces, or even throwing stones at that force, which confirms that the only source of fire in the place was from the occupation forces, with the aim of killing,” said PA Attorney General Khateeb.

Khateeb said Abu Akleh was in the Israeli soldiers’ direct line of sight and nothing was obstructing their view of her.

Israeli officials insist it is impossible to confirm who killed Abu Akleh until its investigators have access to the bullet, which the Palestinians have.  The Palestinian Authority refused Israel’s request to conduct a joint investigation and has also rejected American and international help.

Ballistic analysis could potentially match the bullet to the specific rife that shot Abu Akleh.

The Palestinians don’t trust Israel to investigate its own forces and worry Israel would falsify facts. Likewise, Israel doesn’t trust the Palestinians to conduct a fair and independent investigation. The deep mistrust between the Israelis and Palestinians means neither side will likely accept the conclusions reached by the other.

The State Department said on Wednesday it has not received a formal request from either side for help in the investigations.

On Thursday, a CNN report concluded that “new evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces." The report prompted Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid to protest to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the "biased investigation of her death by the Palestinian Authority as well as the so-called ‘investigation’ by CNN."

The competing narratives surrounding Abu Akleh’s death evoke the Mohammad al-Durrah controversy at the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000. Then, a French 2 TV report claimed that 12-year-old al-Durrah was killed in a crossfire between Palestinians gunmen and IDF troops. However, a 2013 report by Israel Foreign Ministry claimed the raw footage from the incident showed al-Durrah was not even killed. The Israeli report concluded that the incident became a propaganda tool for the Palestinian cause and “has served as an inspiration and justification for terrorism, anti-Semitism, and the delegitimization of Israel.”

 The Palestinians plan to transfer the case to the International Criminal Court.

Abu Akleh,51, was born in Jerusalem to a Christian family and was an American citizen. She leaves behind her brother. She was a renowned journalist who covered the conflict for decades.

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