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Lawyers to add Shireen Abu Akleh killing to Israel war crimes ICC case

In April, a formal complaint filed with the International Criminal Court accused Israel of the 'systematic targeting' of Palestinian journalists
The brother of Shireen Abu Akleh, Anton Abu Akleh, attends a candle vigil outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank Biblical city of Bethlehem on 16 May 2022 (AFP)
By MEE staff in London

The killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh will be added to the case recently filed to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israel, international lawyers working on the case said on Friday.

The Qatar-based media network said on Thursday that it had formed an international coalition consisting of its legal team and international experts, and was preparing a dossier on Abu Akleh's killing for submission to the ICC prosecutor.

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Abu Akleh, 51, was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May near the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank while covering an Israeli raid on the camp. Israel has denied targeting her and said it remains unclear who killed the journalist. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also shot and injured. 

Eyewitnesses and colleagues who were present at the scene, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysha, said Abu Akleh was targeted by an Israeli sniper. Al Jazeera said Abu Akleh was "assassinated in cold blood". 

Bindmans LLP, the firm hosting Friday's news conference in London, said that while it was waiting for confirmation from the ICC prosecutor's office about the action they intend to take, "the killing of Shireen and the shooting of Ali al-Samoudi bring to sharp focus the need for urgent action by the ICC. We will seek to add these cases to the complaint that is already before the ICC."

"A free press is the cornerstone of a democracy," said Tayeb Ali, the solicitor in the case. “The targeting of journalists in conflict zones anywhere in the world is unacceptable and must bring severe consequences for those that try to hide their crimes and violations by killing or maiming journalists."

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief Walid al Omari said: “If there is no accountability this time, Shireen will not be the last Palestinian journalist to be executed by the Israeli occupation.”

'Systematic targeting' of journalists

In April, a formal complaint was filed with the ICC, alleging that Israel’s "systematic targeting" of Palestinian journalists and its failure to investigate their killings amounts to war crimes. 

The complaint was filed by the International Federation of Journalists, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate and the International Centre of Justice for Palestinians. The ICC’s prosecutor’s office formally acknowledged receipt of the complaint on 25 April.

The complaint detailed the targeting of Palestinian journalists on behalf of four named victims – Ahmed Abu Hussein, Yaser Murtaja, Muath Amarneh, and Nedal Eshtayeh – who were killed or wounded by Israeli snipers while covering demonstrations in Gaza and the occupied West Bank. According to the complaint, all of them were wearing clearly marked “press” vests at the time they were shot. 

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Abu Hussein and Murtaja were killed in 2018, while photographers Amarneh and Eshtayeh were maimed in 2019 and 2015, respectively, after being shot by snipers in the eye.

The ICC opens investigations in places where domestic authorities are unable or unwilling to look into allegations of abuse. 

Israel, however, maintains that it is not subject to the court's mandate because it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the tribunal, and that the ICC cannot investigate abuses in the Palestinian territories because Palestine is not yet broadly recognised as a state.

The Palestinian Authority announced on Thursday that the results of its investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh showed Israeli forces deliberately shot and killed the veteran reporter.

Palestinian Attorney General Akram al-Khatib told reporters: "It was clear that one of the [Israeli] occupation forces… had fired a bullet that hit journalist Shireen Abu Akleh directly in her head," while she was trying to escape.

Abu Akleh was hit with an armour-piercing bullet, Khatib said, while she was wearing a helmet and a vest that was clearly marked with the word "press".

He added that the probe found there were no Palestinian fighters near the scene of the shooting, contradicting claims made by Israeli officials that she could have been killed by Palestinian gunmen.

He said that the Israeli forces were able to see Abu Akleh and other journalists, who were all clearly marked as members of the press.

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