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Biden holds firm on refusal to open new Abu Akleh probe, despite push from Democrats

Official says US reviewed Israeli, Palestinian investigations for State Department inquiry into reporter’s killing, will not gather evidence or question those involved directly

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Banners depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh hang on a building overlooking the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, on July 14, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Banners depicting slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh hang on a building overlooking the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in the West Bank, on July 14, 2022. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

The Biden administration will not open a new investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a senior US official told The Times of Israel on Thursday, despite efforts by some Democratic lawmakers to reopen the issue.

Washington announced earlier this month after reviewing evidence that it was not possible to definitively determine who killed the reporter and that there was no reason to believe the shooting was deliberate but said the Israeli army was likely responsible.

The July 4 announcement by the State Department came after US Security Coordinator in Jerusalem General Mike Fenzel reviewed both Israeli and Palestinian investigations, and ballistic experts from his office examined the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, which was too damaged to draw a definitive conclusion.

But the results did not satisfy over a dozen Democratic Congress members who argued that relying on Israeli and Palestinian investigations was not sufficient and that US authorities should conduct their own probe that would directly gather evidence and question those involved.

The request was delivered in a letter to US President Joe Biden by Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, and in another letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken from Senators Chris Van Hollen, Patrick Leahy, Chris Murphy and Dick Durbin.

Even stronger wording calling for a US investigation was used in legislation co-sponsored by 13 progressive Democrats earlier this month demanding that the FBI determine whether US weapons were used in Abu Akleh’s killing. A senior Israeli official briefing reporters ahead of Biden’s Mideast trip this month said both the Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian gunmen in the May 11 clashes during which the Al Jazeera reporter was killed were using American-made weapons.

The legislation directed at the FBI was introduced by Representative Andre Carson, who also led a letter in May, before the State Department announced its findings, calling for an independent US probe. That letter was signed by 57 House Democrats.

But senior administration official said Thursday that the White House was satisfied with Fenzel’s reliance on the Israeli and Palestinian investigations.

“I would not anticipate an independent US investigation,” he said.

Students carry a mock coffin as they hold a symbolic funeral for slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, at al-Azhar University in Mughraqa, central Gaza Strip, Monday, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

The official reiterated the Biden administration’s call for Israel to conclude its own probe and release the findings as soon as possible.

The PA said its investigation proved that the Al Jazeera journalist was intentionally targeted and killed by the IDF during a raid in the northern West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin after a series of terror attacks against Israelis, including some carried out by Jenin residents. Israel flatly rejected the PA’s claim as a blatant lie and said there is not enough evidence to draw a definitive conclusion about who fired the fatal bullet.

Blinken called Abu Akleh’s family the day before Biden’s trip to Israel. The family’s request for a meeting with the president while he was in the Middle East was not granted, but Blinken invited the family to Washington.

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