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Blinken calls family of American-Palestinian reporter killed in Jenin, offers help

Top US diplomat notes ‘the importance of a free and independent press’ as he conveys condolences to relatives of Shireen Abu Akleh

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends the Informal Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Germany, May 15, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends the Informal Meeting of NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Berlin, Germany, May 15, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Pool via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with the family of deceased Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh after criticizing Israel’s use of force at her funeral, an official said Sunday.

Blinken, during his flight Saturday to Berlin for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers, offered “deep condolences” in a phone call with family members of Shireen Abu Akleh, a State Department official said.

The top US diplomat “noted Abu Akleh’s journalistic body of work and the importance of a free and independent press,” the official said.

Blinken offered the support of US diplomats in Jerusalem to the family of Abu Akleh, who also held US citizenship.

Abu Akleh, 51, was killed by gunfire Wednesday morning while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has charged that Israel “executed” her. Israeli officials at first said it was likely Palestinian gunmen had mistakenly shot her, but later said errant Israeli sniper fire could also have caused her death.

Israel is insisting it cannot definitively determine who shot her without examining the bullet removed from her neck, Channel 12 reported Friday, adding that Israel has asked the US for assistance in persuading the Palestinian Authority to cooperate.

Palestinian prosecutors said Friday that, according to their initial investigation, only IDF troops could have fired the bullet that killed Abu Akleh. On Saturday, the Palestinian Authority said that while international bodies could “participate” in its investigation, Israel would not be permitted to join.

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, May 11, 2022. (Abbas Momani/Pool via AP)

At her funeral on Friday, police officers charged Palestinians who were holding and surrounding the casket and beat them with batons, nearly toppling the coffin.

Police have claimed that the casket was seized by a mob, against the family’s wishes, outside Jerusalem’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, prompting the cops’ intervention.

Abu Akleh’s brother, however, said the family and mourners had hoped to hold a “small procession” but were “bombarded” by officers as they left the hospital.

Blinken earlier said he was “deeply troubled” by the actions of Israeli police, and the State Department urged a transparent investigation into her killing.

Responding to images from the funeral, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said they were “deeply disturbing.”

US President Joe Biden said he did not know the details surrounding the incident but noted that it “has to be investigated.”

An interim report issued by the IDF earlier on Friday set out two likely scenarios regarding who fired the fatal shot — saying it was an instance of either Palestinian terrorists’ gunfire or Israeli sniper fire — in neither of which Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted.

IDF chief Aviv Kohavi held a closed meeting with several generals on Thursday — before the interim probe report was published — at which the possibility that Abu Akleh was hit by an Israeli bullet was discussed.

Two sources familiar with the discussion say this possibility was defined as “very likely,” the network reported. Some of the meeting’s participants reportedly considered it no less likely and possibly more likely that she was hit by an errant IDF bullet than by indiscriminate Palestinian fire.

The IDF chief also said in the Thursday meeting that we “certainly think it is possible” that she was hit by IDF fire, but added that examining the bullet would provide definitive answers.

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