Jerusalem (AFP) – Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akle, one of the satellite channel’s most famous correspondents, was shot dead on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. The presenter and two journalists who were with her blamed the Israeli forces.
The IDF initially indicated that Abu Okla may have been killed by stray fire from Palestinian militants. But the army chief, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, later retracted that assertion, saying it was not clear who fired the fatal shot.
Abu Akle’s death may spark new scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is being scrutinized as part of a War crimes investigation conducted by the International Criminal Court. It also threatened to further strain relations between the military and the international media.
Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, best known for her coverage of Al Jazeera Arabic channel of the harsh reality of Israel’s open military occupation of the Palestinians, which has entered its 55th year. She was widely recognized in the West Bank and was also an American citizen.
Echoes of her death reverberated throughout the region. Arab governments condemned the killing.
There was also an outpouring of grief in the West Bank. In Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian self-rule government, Abu Akle’s body, draped in the Palestinian flag and covered in a wreath, was carried through the streets of the city center. Hundreds chanted, “Our lives, our blood, we sacrifice for you, Sherine.”
On Thursday, a procession was scheduled to transport the body for burial in Jerusalem, where Abu Aqla was born.
And in East Jerusalem, dozens of mourners gathered at the family’s home to pay their respects. Lina Abu Akleh, her niece, called her “my best friend, my second mother, my companion.”
“I didn’t expect that day would come, when the news would be about her and she wouldn’t be the one covering the news,” she said.
Once, a group of Israeli police entered the house, where they were immediately met with shouts of “murderers” and “occupiers” and chants of “Get out.” It was not immediately clear why the police arrived and the officers quickly left.
Palestinians gathered in front of the family’s house on Wednesday evening, some carrying Palestinian flags and posters with a picture of Sherine Abu Akleh. When the group walked toward a main road, the Israeli police tried to stop them. Brawls guaranteed. Five Palestinians were wounded and about six were arrested.
Abu Aqla was killed on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, known as A The stronghold of the militants. Israel has launched almost daily raids in Jenin in recent weeks, following a series of deadly attacks inside Israel by activists from the area.
Kochavi, the Israeli army chief, said his forces were attacked by indiscriminate fire from Palestinian militants. The army released a body camera video of troops in the town, while heavy gunfire was heard in the background.
But after earlier hints by Israeli officials that Palestinian fire may have killed the journalist, Kochavi said, “At this point, we cannot determine who was hit by fire and we regret her death.” Kochavi said a special team has been set up to investigate.
Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.” Palestinian journalists who were with Abu Okla at the time said that they informed Israeli soldiers of their presence, and that they did not see armed men in the area.
Palestinian journalist Ali al-Samudi, producer of Abu Okla, was taken to hospital in a stable condition after being shot in the back. He said any suggestion that the gunmen had shot them was a “complete lie”.
The outcome of the Israeli military investigation will be closely monitored. The International Criminal Court has opened an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israel does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court and has called the investigation unfair and anti-Semitic. One of the main arguments against the investigation was that the military justice system had the capacity to investigate itself.
The results of the investigation into the death of Abu Akleh could spark new scrutiny. Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said the Palestinians would pass on his information on the case to the court.
The Palestinian Forensic Institute said the initial autopsy was inconclusive. Ryan Al-Ali, director of the institute, said a mutilated bullet had been found and further studies were underway to determine who fired it.
In New York, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas Greenfield, called Abou Akle’s death “really horrific” and called for a transparent investigation. She said protecting American citizens and journalists was our “top priority.”
Thomas Greenfield said Abboud Aqle had an “exceptional interview” with her in the West Bank last November. “I left there with extraordinary respect for her,” she said.
The UN human rights office urged an “independent and transparent investigation into her murder. Impunity must end.”
The White House also called for a thorough investigation. “The investigation of the attacks on independent media and the prosecution of those responsible is extremely important,” Deputy Press Secretary Karen-Jean-Pierre said.
Al-Jazeera, which has long had strained relations with Israel, cut its broadcasts to announce her death in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
In a statement broadcast by its channel, it called on the international community to “condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.”
It aired a separate tape showing Abu Akleh lying motionless on the side of a road wall while another journalist was sitting nearby and a man shouted for an ambulance. There was gunfire in the background. Both reporters were wearing blue flak jackets with the word “PRESS” clearly marked on them. The source of the shooting did not appear in the video.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security matters, condemned what it said was a “horrific crime” committed by Israeli forces.
Qatar, the Arab League and Jordan condemned the shooting, and in the Jordanian capital, Amman, a group of journalists and activists organized a solidarity march outside the offices of Al-Jazeera.
The Israelis have long criticized Al Jazeera’s coverage, but the authorities generally allow journalists to operate freely.
Relations between the Israeli forces and foreign media, especially Palestinian journalists, were strained. A number of Palestinian journalists were injured by rubber bullets or tear gas while covering demonstrations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Two Palestinian journalists were shot dead by Israeli forces while filming violent protests along the Gaza border in 2018.
In November of that year, Associated Press photographer Rashid Rashid was covering a demonstration near the Gaza border when he was wounded in his left ankle, apparently by Israeli fire. The army has never acknowledged the shooting.
During last year’s war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, an Israeli air strike destroyed the building in Gaza City that houses the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was hurt in the raid. Israel said Hamas was using the building as a command center but did not provide any evidence.
The Foreign Press Association, which represents about 400 journalists working for international media, said it was “stunned and deeply shocked” by the killing and hoped “those responsible for this horrific death will be held to account”.
Associated Press book Joseph Krause of Jerusalem; Aref Tufaha in Jenin in the West Bank. Jalal Hassan in Ramallah in the West Bank. Isabelle Debre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Darlene Superville of Washington and Edith Lederer of the United Nations contributed to this report.