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Shireen Abu Akleh: US says gunfire from Israeli positions likely killed journalist

The assessment was based on investigations by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, says US security coordinator
A Palestinian woman takes pictures at the scene where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead during an Israeli raid, in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 17 May 2022.
A Palestinian woman takes pictures at the scene where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead during an Israeli raid, in Jenin, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, 17 May 2022 (Reuters)

Gunfire from the positions of Israeli forces was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh but there was no definitive conclusion on the origin of the bullet, the US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) said on Monday.

The assessment, which found no reason to believe the killing was intentional, was based on investigations by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Independent third-party examiners could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed the Palestinian-American journalist despite an "extremely detailed forensic analysis", the US State Department said in a statement.

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"By summarizing both investigations, the USSC concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh," the department said, using another term for Israeli forces.

"The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel."

The Palestinian Authority on Saturday handed the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to US authorities for forensic examination.

Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on 11 May while covering an Israeli military raid in the Palestinian city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Her death sparked Palestinian outrage and widespread international condemnation.

Israel said on Monday after concluding its investigation into the killing, that after a forensic examination they could not determine from which weapon the bullet was fired.

"The physical condition of the bullet and the quality of the characteristics on it do not enable a ballistic examination to conclusively determine whether or not the bullet was fired from the weapon which was examined," the Israeli army said.

US authorities 'stalling the truth'

The killing of Abu Akleh was met with international outrage and calls for an independent investigation. Rights groups have said that it's unlikely Israel would conduct a proper investigation into the matter, saying that the country has a poor record of probing the conduct of its forces in relation to the deaths of Palestinians.

Multiple eyewitnesses, including Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysa, said the 51-year-old veteran Al Jazeera journalist was shot dead by Israeli snipers while reporting during a raid in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Investigations by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations, as well as several journalistic probes, also found that the shot that killed Abu Akleh was fired by Israeli forces.

Following the US's statement on Abu Akleh's killing, a senior Palestinian official accused Washington of protecting Israel and said that Israel needs to be held accountable.

'The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it'

- Wasel Abu Youssef, Palestine Liberation Organisation

"The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it," Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), told Reuters.

"We say Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh and it has to be held responsible for the crime it has committed."

Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said it was not clear on what grounds the US State Department dismissed the killing as "the result of tragic circumstances". 

"As far as Israel is concerned, its policy regarding the killing of Palestinians has never been anything other than an organized whitewash meant to enable the continuation of the killings with impunity, and it is no different when it comes to a US citizen as in the current case."

The rights group added that the odds there will be accountability for the killing of Abu Akleh were "nonexistent".

"Meanwhile, Israel’s international impunity remains unchallenged.”

'Insulting to Shireen's memory'

Abu Akleh's family, who had already voiced doubts over the US involvement in the investigation, issued a scathing rebuke of Monday's conclusion, saying that to describe it as "a disappointment would be an understatement".

"The notion that the American investigators, whose identity is not disclosed in the statement, believe the bullet 'likely came from Israeli positions' is cold comfort," the family said in a statement.

"We say this in light of the addition of a conclusory pronouncement that the killing was not intentional but rather the result of a purported Israeli counterterrorism raid gone wrong, which is frankly insulting to Shireen's memory and ignores the history and context of the brutal and violent nature of what is now the longest military occupation in modern history."

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The family added that the killing was a clear example of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but the investigation's "focus on the bullet" was an attempt "by the Israeli side to spin the narrative in its favor, as if this were some kind of police whodunit that could be solved by a CSI-style forensic test".

In the early aftermath of the killing, legal experts told MEE that there were a number of legal mechanisms that Abu Akleh could use in order to seek justice, given the journalist's American citizenship.

Her family said in its statement that it would continue to advocate for justice, hold Israel accountable, and call on the US to conduct its own probe into the killing.

Al Jazeera has already referred the case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague and vowed to bring the killers to justice through all international legal platforms.