JERUSALEM, Israel – Israel’s military has identified a soldier’s rifle that may have shot the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and set off international backlash, an Israeli military source told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Abu Akleh, a Christian and veteran Al-Jazeera journalist, was shot dead on May 11 while reporting on an Israeli counterterrorism raid in the West Bank city of Jenin – biblical Samaria. Israel’s military said Abu Akleh was hit by a bullet during a firefight between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists.
“IDF soldiers entered the Jenin camp and apprehended eight suspects. During the counterterrorism activity, dozens of Palestinian gunmen attacked the soldiers. The gunmen recklessly fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers, who responded with fire. At the time of the activity, journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was tragically killed. It is not yet possible to determine the source of gunfire that hit her. The event is still under thorough review,” the military said in a statement on Thursday.
Palestinian officials and witnesses, including fellow journalists who were with Abu Akleh, say she was hit by live Israeli fire. Abu Akleh’s producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back during the raid. He says the claim that Palestinian terrorists shot them is a “complete lie.”
Israel says it cannot yet determine who shot her without access to the fatal bullet, which the Palestinians have.
Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, but Palestinian officials have refused to collaborate, saying they cannot trust Israel to investigate its own security forces.
Israel is currently conducting an investigation of the incident.
Last week, Israel released preliminary findings and presented two scenarios that could have led to Abu Akleh’s death. In one scenario, she was hit by Palestinian gunmen during a firefight with Israeli troops.
In a second scenario, Abu Akleh was killed by an Israeli soldier who shot through a “designated firing hole” in a military vehicle at a Palestinian gunman who was shooting at the vehicle.
“We have narrowed down the IDF weapon that might be involved in the fire exchange near Shireen,” an Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under military briefing guidelines, told AP.
He stressed that Israel cannot be certain the rifle matches the fatal bullet without cooperation from Palestinian officials. He said if the Palestinians work with Israeli officials, Israel will “hopefully be able to compare the bullet to that barrel and check if there is a match.”
Palestinian officials are also conducting their own investigation.
Last Friday, the Palestinian prosecutor investigating the incident said preliminary results show that Abu Akleh was killed by deliberate fire from Israeli forces. He said the investigation is ongoing.
Israel’s military said in a statement Thursday it “does not target militants.”
The military also said it has no plans to open up a criminal probe into Abu Akleh’s death.
“In view of the nature of the operational activity, which included intense fighting and extensive exchanges of fire, it was decided that there was no need to open a Military Police investigation at this stage," a statement from the IDF to the Jerusalem Post read.
The statement said the decision not to open a criminal investigation was done "in accordance with the Judea and Samaria investigative policy, as approved by the Supreme Court, according to which it does not require the opening of a criminal investigation into the death of a Palestinian during operational activity with real combat, unless there is real suspicion of a criminal offense," the Post reported.
Abu-Akleh’s death drew international condemnation. Israel Police have also been widely criticized for their behavior at Abu Akleh’s funeral last Friday, during which officers were seen beating pallbearers, forcing them to nearly drop her casket.
Israeli officials said they intervened because a “mob” had seized her casket as it left St. Joseph’s hospital and prevented it from being placed in a hearse. Israel also pointed the blame at Palestinian mourners who hurled objects at officers.
But Abu Akleh’s family said they hoped to hold a “small procession” from the hospital and were “bombarded” by police as they left the hospital.
Israel Police has opened an internal investigation into the officers’ actions.
Why does Judaism matter and how is it connected to Christianity? Learn more here.