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Blinken invites family of Abu Akleh to DC, will raise her killing during Biden visit

US secretary of state recently spoke on phone with slain Palestinian-American reporter’s family, who have raged at US declaration Israel didn’t intentionally kill her

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

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, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)
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, May 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana, File)

The Biden administration has invited Shireen Abu Akleh’s family to Washington to “engage directly” with the slain Palestinian-American reporter’s relatives, who have expressed outrage over the US determination that she was not intentionally killed by the IDF during a raid in the West Bank.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Israel on Wednesday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke recently on the phone with members of the Abu Akleh family and extended the invitation.

“The administration, at the president’s direction, has been very much engaged in helping try to determine what exactly happened around the tragic circumstances of her death,” Sullivan said, adding that “this subject will be one of the subjects at play in this visit.”

Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 while covering clashes between IDF soldiers and Palestinian gunmen. The Palestinian Authority said its investigation proved that the Al Jazeera journalist was intentionally targeted and killed by the IDF. Israel flatly rejected that claim as a blatant lie and also says there is not enough evidence to draw a definitive conclusion about who fired the fatal bullet.

After nearly two months, the PA agreed to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh to US authorities, who proceeded to conduct a forensic examination. On July 4, the State Department announced that the probe had been inconclusive because the bullet was too badly damaged.

Washington added that it had reviewed the separate investigations by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, concluding that she was likely struck by Israeli fire, though it found “no reason to believe that this was intentional.”

Colleagues and friends react as the Palestinian flag-draped body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is brought to the news channel’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Abbas Momani/Pool via AP, File)

Sullivan added Wednesday that “there will have to be efforts made and accountability [in] making sure that we find a way to conclude this chapter justly.”

For their part, the Abu Akleh family said after the July 4 statement that “all available evidence” suggested she was deliberately killed by an Israeli soldier and that the administration had “thoroughly failed to meet the bare minimum expectation” of a credible, independent investigation.

“Instead, the United States has been skulking toward the erasure of any wrongdoing by Israeli forces,” they said. “It is as if you expect the world and us to now just move on. Silence would have been better.”

US lawmakers have also pressed the administration for an independent investigation into the killing of Abu Akleh, a veteran on-air correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic language service who was widely known and respected across the Arab world.

While Israel may have hoped the chapter could be put behind it after the US released its findings, that has proven to not be the case, with Blinken raising the matter with Prime Minister Yair Lapid in a phone call last week, urging Israel to ensure accountability over the incident.

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