Veteran Al Jazeera journalist shot dead by Israeli forces, say reporters on site

JERUSALEM (AP) — Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin early Wednesday. The broadcaster and a journalist who was injured in the incident blamed Israeli forces.

The Israeli army first raised the possibility that Abu Akleh may have been killed by stray Palestinian fire, saying militants were also present in the area. , we cannot determine by what fire she was injured and we regret her death.

Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for his coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s military occupation over the past three decades. His death reverberated throughout the region and set social media ablaze. She reported for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel and was also an American citizen.

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She was shot in the head early Wednesday on the outskirts of Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Its producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in the back.

Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”. Palestinian journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time said they reported their presence to Israeli soldiers and did not see any militants in the area.

The Israeli army said its forces came under heavy fire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and they retaliated. The army said it was investigating “and examining the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen”.

Kochavi, the army chief, said a special team had been formed to investigate.

Israel released a video of Palestinian gunmen firing into an alley in the Jenin camp, later saying the video was meant to bolster its claim that Palestinians were firing in the area.

However, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem released its own video casting doubt on the claims.

B’Tselem’s video was taken by one of its researchers who walked between the location of the militants in the video and where Abu Akleh was shot. He also provided the coordinates of the two locations. They appeared to be about 300 meters (330 yards) apart and separated by walls and buildings.

Dror Sadot, spokesman for the group, said his evidence showed “there is no way” the gunshots shown in the video killed Abu Akleh. “There is no clear shot,” she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett noted that in the video, an activist is heard shouting that a soldier has been injured. Because no Israelis were injured, he said that suggested the gunmen had shot a journalist instead.

Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem and started working for Al Jazeera in 1997. She regularly reported from all over the Palestinian territories, making her a well-known face on TV screens across the Arab world.

Samoudi, who worked as its producer, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early Wednesday. He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly identified them as journalists, and walked past Israeli troops to let the soldiers know they were there.

He said a first shot missed them, then a second hit him and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area – only journalists and the army. He said the army’s suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie”.

The Qatar-based channel, which has long had strained relations with Israel, halted its broadcast to announce his death. In a statement broadcast on his channel, he called on the international community to “condemn and hold accountable the Israeli occupation forces for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.

“We are committed to prosecuting the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and to bringing them to justice,” Al Jazeera said.

He released a separate video showing Abu Akleh lying motionless on the side of a road next to a wall as another reporter crouches nearby and a man cries out for an ambulance. Gunshots ring out in the background. Both journalists wore blue body armor clearly marked with the word “PRESS”.

The video did not show the source of the shots.

Shaza Hanaysheh, another Palestinian reporter among the reporters, also said there were no clashes or gunfire in the immediate area. She said that when the shots rang out, she and Abu Akleh ran to a tree for cover.

“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell to the ground,” Hanaysheh told Al Jazeera. “Every time I reached out to Shireen, the soldiers shot at us.”

Israel said it had offered a joint investigation and autopsy with the Palestinian Authority, which declined the offer.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security issues, condemned what it called a “shocking crime” committed by Israeli forces.

Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks amid a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, many carried out by Palestinians from Jenin. The city, and in particular its refugee camp, has long been known as a militant stronghold.

Hundreds of Palestinians, including several masked gunmen, marched through Jenin in a funeral procession, carrying Abu Akleh’s body draped in a Palestinian flag and wearing a blue press vest. His body was to be transported to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, before being buried in Jerusalem.

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Condolences poured in from the Arab world.

Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, condemned the killing “in the strongest terms”, calling it a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law” and a “flagrant attack on media freedom”.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted that he was “very sad” to hear of Abu Akleh’s death and called for a “thorough investigation”. He also confirmed that she was a US citizen.

The Arab League condemned the shooting and blamed Israel, and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called the shooting a “heinous crime”.

In a separate incident on Wednesday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said an 18-year-old identified as Thair al-Yazouri was shot and killed by Israeli forces near Ramallah. The army said Palestinians threw stones at an army post near a West Bank settlement and soldiers responded with rubber bullets.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, and the Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state. Nearly 3 million Palestinians live in the territory under Israeli military rule. Israel has built more than 130 settlements across the West Bank that house nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers, who have full Israeli citizenship.

Israelis have long been critical of Al Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely. Another Al Jazeera journalist was briefly detained last year during a protest in Jerusalem and treated for a broken hand, which her employer blamed on police mistreatment.

Relations between Israeli forces and the media, especially Palestinian journalists, are strained. A number of Palestinian reporters were injured by rubber bullets or tear gas while covering protests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Two Palestinian journalists were shot dead by Israeli forces while filming violent protests along the Gaza border in 2018.

In November of the same year, PA cameraman Rashed Rashid was covering a protest near the Gaza border when he was shot in the left ankle, apparently by Israeli fire. He was wearing protective gear that clearly identified him as a journalist and was standing with other journalists about 600 meters (660 yards) from the border when he was hit. The military never acknowledged the shooting.

During last year’s war between Israel and the militant Hamas rulers of Gaza, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building in Gaza City housing the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was injured in the strike. Israel said Hamas used the building as a command center but provided no evidence.

Akram reported from Hamilton, Canada. Associated Press writers Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Ilan Ben Zion and Areej Hazboun in Jerusalem contributed.


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