US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday became the first US official to call for an independent investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
“We are looking for an independent, credible investigation. When that investigation happens, we will follow the facts, wherever they lead. It’s as straightforward as that,” he said at a forum for student journalists on the sidelines of a Latin America summit in Los Angeles.
Blinken had been pressed during a Q&A session by an audience member who claimed there had been “absolutely no repercussions” for Israel over the death of Abu Akleh, or for Saudi Arabia for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A well-known Al Jazeera reporter, Abu Akleh was killed during a May 11 IDF raid in the West Bank city of Jenin that sparked clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen.
Blinken, who has spoken to Abu Akleh’s family, began by saying: “I deplore the loss of Shireen. She was a remarkable journalist, an American citizen.”
After the questioner objected to Blinken’s assertion that the evidence in the case was not yet clear, the secretary pushed back. “I’m sorry, with respect, [the facts] have not yet been established.”
The remarks effectively dismissed the investigation carried out by the Palestinian Authority, which concluded last month that Abu Akleh had been deliberately targeted by Israeli troops.
Israel has yet to announce the findings of its own investigation but has said they would likely be inconclusive without the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, which is in the PA’s possession. The Palestinians have refused to hand over the bullet, saying they do not trust Israel.
Until Tuesday, US officials have refrained from calling for an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, instead calling for “full accountability” for those responsible while urging Israel and the PA to swiftly conclude their respective probes.
Asked whether Blinken’s remark indeed represented a change in the US position, a State Department official appeared to say otherwise.
“There has been no change in our approach. We continue to call for a thorough, credible investigation that culminates in accountability,” the official told The Times of Israel.
Last month, a Biden administration official told The Times of Israel that the US would not be launching its own investigation but instead would be urging the sides to share evidence with one another — a tall task, given that ties between Israel and the PA have deteriorated in recent months amid clashes at the Temple Mount, Abu Akleh’s killing and the Jerusalem Day Flag March of Jewish religious nationalists through the Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter.
The new position from Blinken on Wednesday also came amid growing calls from Congress to determine who was responsible for the reporter’s death. These have included a letter from 57 House progressives calling for the State Department and FBI to launch their own investigation, a bipartisan letter from 25 representatives calling on the PA to cooperate with Israel and another letter in the Senate sent by Jon Ossoff and Mitt Romney on Monday urging the administration ensure a transparent investigation.