Thu, 26 May 2022

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American who was among the network's most prominent figures, was shot dead Wednesday as she covered an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

The Qatar-based TV channel said Israeli forces shot Abu Akleh, 51, deliberately and "in cold blood" while she was covering unrest in the Jenin refugee camp.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett initially said it was "likely" that Palestinian gunfire killed her.

However, later Wednesday, Israel's military chief backed away from claims that Palestinian militants might have been responsible for Abu Akleh's killing.

"At this stage we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death," said Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, adding that the investigation was ongoing.

An AFP photographer said Abu Akleh was wearing a press flak jacket when she was shot. The photographer reported that Israeli forces were firing in the area and then saw Abu Akleh's body lying on the ground.

There were no Palestinian gunmen visible in the area when Abu Akleh was killed, the AFP photographer added.

A statement from Al Jazeera said: "The Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera's correspondent in Palestine."

It called on the international community to hold the Israeli forces accountable for their "intentional targeting and killing" of the journalist.

Another Al Jazeera journalist, producer Ali al-Samudi, was wounded in the incident, the broadcaster added.

Joint investigation

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel was seeking a "joint pathological investigation into the sad death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh".

"Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth," Lapid added.

Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh said there had been no contact from Israel about any joint probe and held Israel "responsible" for Abu Akleh's killing.

In a sign of her prominence in the West Bank, residents laid flowers on the roadside as the vehicle carrying her body moved towards Nablus, where an autopsy was scheduled before her burial in her native Jerusalem.

US ambassador to Israel Tomas Nides called for a "thorough investigation" into the killing of the US citizen.

'Palestinian gunmen'?

The Israeli premier said: "According to the information we've gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians - who were indiscriminately firing at the time - were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist."

The wounded Al Jazeera producer, Samudi, said there were no Palestinian fighters in the area where Abu Akleh was shot.

"If there were resistance fighters, we would not have gone into the area," he said in testimony posted online.

In recent weeks, the army has stepped up operations in Jenin, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Several of the suspects blamed for deadly attacks on Israelis in recent weeks were from the area.

The army said that during its operation in the camp, "massive fire was shot towards Israeli forces by tens of armed Palestinian gunmen".

People in the camp "also hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers, endangering their lives. The soldiers responded with fire toward the sources of the fire and explosive devices".

Rising tensions

The fatal shooting comes nearly a year after an Israeli air strike destroyed a Gaza building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and news agency AP.

Israel has said the building also hosted offices used by key members of the Hamas Islamist group, which controls the Israeli-blockaded Gaza strip.

Tensions have risen in recent months as Israel has grappled with a wave of attacks which has killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.

An 18-year-old Palestinian was killed by Israeli troops during clashes near Ramallah on Wednesday. The army said its forced had used rubber bullets.

Wednesday's deaths brought the number of Palestinians killed since March 22 to 31, according to an AFP tally.

Three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)

Originally published on France24

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