JERUSALEM — A female journalist for Al Jazeera was shot and killed while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday. While the journalist who sustained injuries in the attack on the radio broadcaster was blamed for the shooting, Israel said that evidence showed they were struck by Palestinian gunfire.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known Palestinian reporter for the broadcaster’s Arabic language channel who is also a U.S. citizen, was shot and died soon afterward. Ali Samoudi was another Palestinian journalist who was shot in the back and is now in stable condition.
Her death was announced by the Qatar-based network. In a statement flashed on its channel, it called on the international community to “condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.”
“We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice,” Al Jazeera said.
According to the Israeli military, its troops were attacked with explosives and heavy gunfire while in Jenin. They fired back. The military said it was investigating “and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that based on the information they had already gathered, “there is a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death.”
Israeli officials pointed at video footage that shows Palestinian gunmen speeding through narrow streets, with one shouting that an Israeli soldier was wounded. According to Israeli officials, no Israelis were wounded in this incident. It is possible that they shot a journalist.
Al Jazeera also aired a separate video that shows Abu Akleh motionless lying on a side road near a wall while another journalist crouches close by and a man shouts for help. In the background, gunfire can be heard. Both reporters were wearing blue flak jackets clearly marked with the word “PRESS.”
The source of gunfire was not shown in either one of the videos.
Israel stated that it proposed to the Palestinian Authority a joint investigation as well as an autopsy. They declined.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security matters, condemned what it said was a “shocking crime” committed by Israeli forces.
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Abu Akleh (51), was born in Jerusalem. In 1997, she began her work for Al Jazeera and reported regularly from the Palestinian territories.
Samoudi was her producer and said that they were part of a group seven journalists who covered the raid on Wednesday morning. According to Samoudi, they all wore protective gear which clearly identified them as reporters and were seen passing by Israeli troops.
Abu Akleh was killed by a third shot after a failed first attempt. He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army. He said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie.”
Shaza Hanaysheh, another Palestinian journalist among the reporters, similar account in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, saying there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area.
According to her, Abu Akleh and she ran towards a tree for shelter when they heard the shots.
“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell on the ground,” Hanaysheh said. “Every time I extended my hand toward Shireen, the soldiers fired at us.”
Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, told army radio that the two journalists were “armed with cameras” and standing near Palestinian gunmen. He said the militants were “unprofessional people, terrorists, who were shooting at our troops” and likely hit the reporters instead.
Israel launched near-daily attacks on the West Bank, including several that were committed by Palestinians from Jenin. This town and its refugee camp have been long known for being a stronghold of militants.
Hundreds of Palestinians, including several masked gunmen, marched through Jenin in a funeral procession, carrying Abu Akleh’s body draped with a Palestinian flag and a blue press vest. The body of Abu Akleh was taken to Ramallah to receive the Palestinian government’s approval before being buried in Jerusalem.
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Many condolences were sent from all parts of the Arab world to the veteran journalist, who is well-known in the Arab community for her coverage on the Palestinians.
Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, condemned the killing “in the strongest terms,” calling it a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law” and a “blatant attack on media freedom.”
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, tweeted that he was “very sad” to learn of Abu Akleh’s death and called for a “thorough investigation.” He also confirmed she was an American citizen.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, called the shooting “a heinous crime, and a flagrant attack on press freedom whose perpetrators must be held accountable.”
A separate incident occurred on Wednesday when the Palestinian Health Ministry reported that a 18-year old, Thair al-Yazouri was killed and shot by Israeli forces in Ramallah. According to the military, Palestinians had been throwing rocks at an army base near a West Bank settlement. Soldiers responded by firing rubber bullets. These bullets can prove deadly, even though they are intended to be non-lethal.
Israel gained the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast conflict. The Palestinians wish to make the West Bank a major part of their state. The territory is home to nearly 3 million Palestinians. It has been under Israeli military control since 1967. More than 130 Israeli settlements have been built in West Bank. They are home to almost 500,000 Jewish settlers who hold full Israeli citizenship.
Israelis have long been critical of Al Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely. Givara Budieri, another Al Jazeera journalist, was temporarily detained during protests in Jerusalem last year. Her employer laid blame for her broken hand on police brutality.
There are tensions between Israeli forces (especially Palestinian journalists) and media. Several Palestinian journalists have suffered injuries from rubber-coated bullets and tear gas as they covered demonstrations in West Bank or east Jerusalem. Israeli forces killed two Palestinian journalists filming violence along Gaza’s frontier in 2018 while shooting the footage.
Rashed Rashid (AP) was working as a cameraman for a Palestinian protest in Gaza when he was hit on the ankle by Israeli gunfire. When he was shot, he was in protective gear clearly identifying him as a journalist. He has not been acknowledged by the military.
During last year’s war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building in Gaza City housing the offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera. Residents were warned not to go and nobody was injured in the attack. Israel claims Hamas is using the building for its command center, but there’s no proof.
Akram reported from Hamilton in Canada. Associated Press reporters Isabel DeBre, Dubai, United Arab Emirates and Areej Hzboun in Jerusalem were also involved.
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