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Shireen Abu Akleh: US senators say Biden's handling of investigation is neither credible nor independent

In two separate letters, Democrats demand accountability over slain Palestinian-American journalist who was killed by an Israeli bullet
A picture taken on 6 July 2022 shows a mural depicting slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh (AFP)

Senate Democrats have criticised a US-led review of the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, arguing that the probe "hardly constitutes an independent investigation".

Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist with Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on 11 May during an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. Her death sparked outrage among Palestinians and widespread international condemnation.

Since the killing, investigations by Middle East Eye, The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as international bodies and the United Nations, have lent support to eyewitness accounts that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli forces.

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In a letter addressed to US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, pro-Israel lawmaker Senator Bob Menendez wrote that the administration had not provided any details of a "thorough… credible investigation" into the killing.

Menendez, along with co-signatory Senator Corey Booker, urged Biden to provide a senior-level classified briefing on the investigation's details and what steps the administration would take next regarding accountability.

"We urge you to raise Ms Abu Akleh's case at the highest levels and press for accountability during your upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank. We also ask for continued US participation in transparent and timely investigations into any remaining or new evidence," the letter said.

In a separate communique to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Senators Chris Van Hollen, Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy, and Dick Durbin criticised the US's forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh as insufficient and pressed the administration for further details on the investigation.

"While we were glad to see the USSC [US Security Coordinator] involved in an independent forensic analysis of the bullet that killed Ms Abu Akleh, that hardly constitutes an independent investigation into the overall circumstances of her killing," the letter said.

Ensuring accountability

In the second letter, the lawmakers also said that the administration failed to live up to Blinken's call for an "independent, credible investigation" into Abu Akleh's killing.

The forensic analysis fails to meet "any plausible definition of the 'independent' investigation that you and members of Congress have called for," the lawmakers wrote. "Nor does it provide the transparency that this case demands."

The lawmakers specifically questioned what led the USSC to conclude that gunfire from the positions of Israeli forces likely killed Abu Akleh, and how the USSC determined that the shooting was unintentional.

"What steps will you take to ensure the 'independent, credible' investigation you called for?" the letter continued, further asking, "What steps do you plan to take to ensure… accountability?"

Palestinian activists have criticised the State Department's probe into the killing and the decision to make it public on 4 July – US Independence Day – a major national holiday when many people are spending time with their families and not focusing on the news.

Abu Akleh's family has described Washington's assessment as "frankly insulting to Shireen's memory" and demanded that Biden meets with them during his visit to Israel this week.

The White House did not immediately respond to MEE's request for comment on the letters.