WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. officials have concluded that fire from Israeli positions likely killed Al-Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh but that there was “no reason to believe” her firing was intentional, the State Department said Monday.
The discovery, in a statement by State Department spokesman Ned Price, came after what the United States said were inconclusive tests under American supervision of the bullet recovered from Abu Akleh’s body. He said “independent third-party reviewers” carried out an “extremely detailed forensic analysis”.
“Ballistics experts determined that the bullet was severely damaged, which precluded a clear conclusion” as to who fired the shot, Price said in the statement.
Abu Akleh, a former Palestinian-American correspondent well known in the Arab world, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on May 11 in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, say Israeli troops killed her and there were no militants in the immediate area.
Israel says she was killed in a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only forensic analysis of the bullet would confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. He has strongly denied that she was deliberately targeted, but claims that an Israeli soldier may have hit her by mistake during a firefight with an activist.
US security officials reviewed the results of separate Palestinian and Israeli investigations and “concluded that firing from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh,” Price said.
The United States “found no reason to believe it was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad factions,” Price said.
The Israeli military presented the findings as part of its own investigation in a statement likely to anger the Palestinian Authority, which had adamantly rejected any Israeli role in the investigation and refused to share the bullet with Israeli authorities.
The military said that although the bullet remained in the custody of US officials throughout the process, it was examined by Israeli experts at a forensic laboratory in Israel.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the army chief of staff, ordered the investigation to continue “using all available means”, the army said in a statement. He said any decision on whether or not to open a criminal investigation would only be made once the operational investigation is complete.
The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera have accused Israeli forces of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh hours after his death.
An Associated Press reconstruction of her murder supported accounts by Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, that she was killed by Israeli forces. Subsequent investigations by CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post came to similar conclusions.
Krauss reported from Ottawa, Ontario. Associated Press reporter Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem contributed to this report.