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Shireen Abu Akleh: US to open investigation into killing of veteran reporter

Family of Palestinian-American journalist welcome move but Israel says it 'will not cooperate' with the probe
Shireen Abu Akleh reporting for Qatar-based news channel Al-Jazeera from Jerusalem, on 22 May 2021 (AFP)

The family of Shireen Abu Akleh, the veteran Palestinian-American reporter who was killed by Israeli forces during a military raid in Jenin in May, have welcomed a US decision to open a probe into her death.

"This is an important step," a statement from her family on Tuesday said, adding that US authorities have a responsibility to investigate "when a US citizen is killed abroad, especially when they were killed, like Shireen, by a foreign military".

Israel had confirmed on Monday that the US Department of Justice had started an investigation into the killing of the Al Jazeera journalist.

In response, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter that Israel "will not cooperate" with the US probe, calling it "a grave mistake". 

"I made it clear to the American representatives that we stand behind the IDF (Israeli army) soldiers, that we will not cooperate with any external investigation, and we will not allow interference in Israel's internal affairs," he said. 

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Abu Akleh, who had worked for 25 years for Al Jazeera Arabic, was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May while covering an Israeli raid in Jenin.

Israel had initially said Palestinian gunmen may have been responsible for the death but then backtracked on its statement.

An Israeli army investigation into the killing in September concluded that she was likely to have been unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier, but not deliberately targeted. 

Since the killing, investigations by Middle East Eye, The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as international bodies and the United Nations, concluded that Israeli forces had in fact killed Abu Akleh.

Rights groups had slammed the Israeli probe, saying Israel has a poor record of investigating the conduct of its forces in relation to Palestinian deaths.

Domestic pressure

The Biden administration has also come under pressure from many members of the Democratic Party to conduct a separate investigation. 

In a statement on Monday, Senator Chris Van Hollen, said: "This is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh."

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Van Hollen was one of 57 lawmakers who signed a letter in May to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Secretary of State Antony Blinken demanding that the FBI and State Department investigate the murder of Abu Akleh. 

"As an American, Ms Abu Akleh was entitled to the full protections afforded to US citizens living abroad," the letter said. 

The following month, a bipartisan group of US lawmakers also called for an independent investigation into the killing. 

"No journalist should face threats or violence for doing their job. As such, it is critical that we get to the bottom of what happened in the incident involving Ms Akleh," the letter, obtained by Jewish Insider, and signed by 24 members of the House - 14 Democrats and 10 Republicans - said.

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