Jerusalem officials have requested Washington’s assistance in persuading Ramallah to agree to a joint investigation into the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot in the head on Wednesday during a firefight between Palestinian terrorists and IDF forces in the militant hotbed of Jenin.
By Jonathan Hessen and Erin Viner
Israeli officials have expressed concern to their American counterparts that the Palestinian Authority (PA) may destroy evidence that may show the reporter may have been killed by Palestinian gunfire.
US State Department Spokesman Ned Price has already addressed Israel’s credibility to conduct an impartial probe. “Clearly, Israeli authorities have the wherewithal to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation,” he said at a press conference.
Referring to a previous case involving the June 2020 fatal shooting of autistic Palestinian Iyad Halak after refusing to halt by Israeli police in Jerusalem’s Old City, Price pointed out that one year later Israel’s Ministry of Justice’s Department for Investigations of Police Officers (DIPO) filed an indictment against the responsible Border Police officer at the Jerusalem District Court.
“Why are they rejecting a joint investigation? What exactly are they trying to hide?” queried Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in a statement issued last night addressing the PA’s refusal to conduct a joint investigation.
“We have to get to the bottom of what happened — to find the truth and only the truth,” stressed the Premier.
The PA rejected Israel’s repeated requests for the conducting of an autopsy by both sides, as well as provision of the bullet by which Abu Akleh was hit. Instead, the director of the Palestinian Forensic Medicine Institute carried out an initial autopsy yesterday and publicly stated that his results were inconclusive, according to the statement released by Prime Minister Bennett’s International Spokeswoman Keren Hajioff.
“The PA is preventing any possibility to jointly investigate the death and refuses even to grant access to the critical forensic evidence needed in order to arrive at the truth,” underscored Bennett, stressing that, “Without any concrete evidence, hasty accusations against Israel that are being made right now are misleading and irresponsible.”
While repeating his “expectation for transparency of the findings and complete cooperation,” the Israeli leader called on the “PA not to take any steps that may contaminate or disrupt the investigation in a manner that will prevent the truth from coming out.”
He added, “Israel is a vibrant democracy that is proudly committed to ensuring freedom of the press. Journalists are critical to the continued strength of our democracy. Shireen Abu Akleh’s death is a tragedy – there’s no other word for it.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas claimed yesterday that Israeli authorities are “fully responsible” for the “killing” of the veteran Al Jazeera reporter.
“We rejected the joint investigation with the Israeli occupation authorities because they committed the crime and because we don’t trust them,” said Abbas during an official memorial ceremony for Abu Akleh, who was Palestinian-American. The PA “will go immediately to the International Criminal Court in order to track down the criminals,” he stated.
Abu Akleh, 51, was covering the latest arrest operation launched by the IDF amid a deadly wave of Arab terrorist attacks in Israel. Hundreds of mourners lined both sides of the road yesterday as her body was driven in a motorcade from a hospital in the PA headquarters in Ramallah towards Abbas’s compound.
Palestinians in Jenin released a video 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).
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Emissary to the United Nations Riyad Mansour went so far as to refer to “the assassination of a well-known and highly respected journalist.” The PA envoy also distributed a statement from “the Arab Group in New York” that condemned “in the strongest possible terms this criminal act by the Israeli occupying authorities and demanding an international independent investigation on this crime.”
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi was infuriated by the unsubstantiated allegations of responsibility.
“As in many other cases, Palestinians conducted extensive fire toward our forces and reckless and indiscriminate fire in every direction. In contrast to the Palestinians, IDF soldiers open fire in a professional and selective manner. The reporter that was killed was present in a battle zone,” he said, insisting, “At this stage, it is not possible to determine the source of the gunfire which killed her, and we regret her death. In order to get to the truth, we established and special team that will clarify all the facts and present those in their entirety as soon as possible.”
The military chief emphasized that, “IDF units operate day after day with determination effectively thwarting terrorism and preventing terror attacks. The activity takes place wherever it is required and especially in the Jenin sector which has a high concentration of terrorist activity.”