image Photo: Flash90

Al Jazeera reporter dies in Jenin firefight

Shireen Abu Akleh was killed this morning during a clash between Palestinian gunmen and IDF troops in the West Bank city.

By Erin Viner

The veteran 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist reporter was evacuated to an area hospital where she was pronounced dead. A second Al Jazeera reporter Ali Samodi was also wounded during the incident.

Abu Akleh, a native of Jerusalem, had been covering Israel and the West Bank for the past two decades and was a well-known figure in the Arabic speaking world.

“According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement by obtained by TV7.

As evidence of his assessment, Prime Minister Bennett released a video filmed by Palestinians in Jenin at the time of the incident in which they are heard boasting: “We hit a soldier; he’s lying on the ground.” (Click here to see the video).

No IDF troops were injured during the mission, which “increases the possibility that Palestinian terrorists were the ones who shot the journalist,” Bennett insisted.

Moreover, said Prime Minister Bennett, Israel has already “called on the Palestinians to conduct a joint pathological analysis and investigation” based on “all of the existing documentation and findings in order to get to the truth,” although “so far, the Palestinians have refused this offer.”

He added that IDF forces will continue counterterrorism operations to “end the deadly wave of terror and restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

The IDF announced that both Al Jazeera reporter were shot after coming under “massive fire” in the terrorist hotbed city of Jenin and may have been hit by “shots fired by Palestinian gunmen” who had opened fire at troops. Expressing sadness over the incident, the Israeli military will conduct its own investigation to ascertain circumstances surrounding the shooting,” adding that their offer for Palestinian Authority (PA) to participate has thus far been rejected.

The Spokesperson for Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) also released a statement, reading: “We are saddened by the death of senior Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh during a heavy exchange of fire in the midst of a counter-terror operation in Jenin. A free and fair press is fundamental to Israel and all democracies, and as such, journalists must be protected.”

Re-asserting that “there are indications that Ms. Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian terrorist fire,” the MFA repeated that Israel will be conducting a thorough investigation” and urged the Palestinian Authority (PA) to cooperate with the probe “to get to the truth.”

Doubling down on that call, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid posted a statement on Twitter reiterating Jerusalem’s offer to conduct a joint investigation into the journalist’s “sad death.” He went on to stress that while “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,” that “Israel’s security forces will continue to operate wherever necessary to prevent terrorism and the murder of Israelis.”

The Qatar-based news channel interrupted its regular broadcast schedule to condemn Abu Akleh’s death as a “terrible crime meant to prevent media outlets from their reporting,” adding that the network “holds the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the murder of our colleague.” Al Jazeera also demanded that the international community condemn the killing.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also blamed Israel for the reporters’ death. One Palestinian official said Abu Akleh had been “assassinated” while reporting on a raid in Jenin, which has seen intensified IDF operations in recent weeks amid a wave of terrorist attacks on Israel.

Reacting to the accusation of responsibility in a later Knesset speech today, Israeli Prime Minister Bennett said that, The Palestinian Authority rushed to blame Israel for her death, and the President of the PA made unfounded accusations against Israel before any investigation had been carried out.” He again called for the PA to “to cooperate” in an “real investigation” to “uncover the truth,” and to meanwhile “refrain from any actions that may contaminate the investigation.”

The Israeli Premier went on to assert that, “armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner” while “Our forces from the IDF returned fire as accurately, carefully and responsibly as possible.” He then underscored that, “based on preliminary information that we have, there is a significant possibility that the journalist was shot by the armed Palestinians.”

Stressing that “One must understand the broader context surrounding the event in Jenin,” Bennett explained, “For two months, Israel’s citizens have been subject to a series of deadly terrorist attacks. Palestinian terrorists carry out premeditated attacks to murder Israelis. Last night’s action in Jenin is part of a series of counterterrorism efforts meant to put an end to the wave of terrorism and restore security to Israeli citizens. We are determined to continue until we have achieved our goal, and we stand by our men and women of the IDF, the ISA and the police, who risk their lives daily to protect ours.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz also released a statement expressing sorrow over the journalist’s death, while emphasizing that, The State of Israel values the protection of human life above all, as well as freedom of press. IDF troops would never intentionally harm members of the press, and any attempt to imply otherwise is baseless.”

According to a statement TV7 obtained from the Israeli Ministry of Defense (IMoD) Spokesperson’s Office, Gantz said the “preliminary findings from the investigation conducted by the IDF in the last several hours indicate that no gunfire was directed at the journalist – however the investigation is ongoing. On the other hand, we have seen footage of indiscriminate shooting by Palestinian terrorists, which is likely to have hit the journalist. We will communicate our findings in a clear and transparent manner to our American friends, as well as to the Palestinian Authority.”

Jerusalem’s top defense official revealed that he had also “sent a clear message to Mahmoud Abbas today, that our responsibility as leaders is to maintain security, to conduct ourselves in a way that will prevent further violence and bloodshed and to uncover the truth.” In addition, he said that the IMoD has “also communicated with additional countries and officials, including Qatar, where Al Jazeera headquarters are based. We expressed that the findings at this time indicate that there is a reasonable chance that the journalist was shot by Palestinian armed terrorists. This being said, we will conduct an in-depth and comprehensive investigation and deliver our findings to them.”

“We must not forget that we are facing a murderous terror wave that has claimed 19 innocent lives in recent weeks. We will continue to take all the necessary measures to fight terrorism and to maintain the security of the citizens of Israel. This is our top mission. We will do this in a way that reflects the values of the State of Israel – being as precise as possible and taking measures to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians. At the same time, we will continue to investigate incidents in which people have been harmed,” he said, adding “We conduct such in-depth investigations and I am proud of the IDF troops that continue to serve us and I will continue to provide them with the support needed to conduct their activities.”