RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) – Thousands gathered to mourn a murdered Al Jazeera journalist in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, as the Palestinian Authority chief blamed Israel for her death and dismissed Israeli calls for a joint investigation.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter who has covered the Middle East conflict for more than 25 years, was shot dead on Wednesday during an Israeli military attack on the West Bank city of Jenin. Journalists who were with her, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces fired on them even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters.
Israel says it is investigating the incident. It initially hinted that she might have been shot dead by Palestinian militants without presenting any evidence, but has since backed down. Israel is calling for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and works with it on security issues.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily rejected the proposal, saying, “We hold the Israeli occupation authorities fully responsible for their assassination.”
“You cannot hide the truth with this crime,” Abbas said in a speech as her body was laid out with a Palestinian flag draped over it in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is based.
“They are the ones who committed the crime and because we don’t trust them, we will go to the International Criminal Court immediately,” Abbas said.
The ICC opened an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes over a year ago. Israel has dismissed this study as biased.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior Abbas adviser, said the Palestinians would conduct their own independent investigation and would transmit the findings “with high transparency.” He turned down an Israeli request to conduct its own ballistics analysis of the bullet.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused the Palestinians of “denying Israel access to the basic intelligence needed to get at the truth.” He called on the Palestinian Authority “not to take any steps to interfere with the investigation or to contaminate the investigative process.”
Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military attack in Jenin, which has emerged as a militant bastion in recent weeks, as Palestinians launched a series of deadly attacks and Israel launched military raids in the occupied West Bank.
Qatar-based Al Jazeera accused Israel of killing her on purpose and vowed to take legal action. Reporters who were with her said there were no Palestinian militants in the area.
Israeli officials initially suspected that Abu Akleh was hit by militant fire and released video showing gunmen firing on Israeli forces in a narrow alleyway in the Jenin refugee camp. They later withdrew after an Israeli human rights group released its own video showing the scene of the shooting several hundred yards from where Abu Akleh was killed.
Her death was met with a burst of sadness across the Arab world. The 51-year-old was known as a longtime correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel. Their reporting sheds light on the harsh realities of Israeli military rule well into its sixth decade with no end in sight. She was also a US citizen.
Her body was due to be taken to Jerusalem, where she was born, for burial on Friday.
The murder sparked international condemnation and widespread calls for accountability. UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres called for an “independent and transparent investigation” to ensure those responsible are held accountable.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz promised such an investigation on Wednesday, saying he is in contact with US and Palestinian officials and hopes for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he said. “I have no definitive conclusions.”
When asked about the probe and Israel’s offer for the Palestinians to participate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that US officials “stand ready to support both parties in any way we can.”
“Neither side has requested our assistance at this time, and such a request would be necessary for us to do so,” she said.
The death of Abu Akleh could prompt a fresh scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is being investigated as part of the ICC probe. It also threatened to further strain the often rocky relationship between the army and the international media.
Rights groups say Israel rarely conducts investigations of fatal encounters with Palestinians, and that it then often applies lenient sentences.
Her death comes amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence fueled by tensions at a key holy site in Jerusalem.
At least 18 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks in recent weeks, as well as more than 30 Palestinians, most of whom have been involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces. Among the Palestinians killed were an unarmed woman and at least two apparent bystanders, fueling criticism that Israel often uses excessive force.
Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writer Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed.