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Family of Palestinian-US reporter Abu Akleh says FBI probe of death ‘important step’

Relatives hope for ‘truly independent, credible and thorough probe’ into death, which Israel says was likely caused by errant gunfire by IDF soldier

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an IDF raid in Jenin on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Courtesy)
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an IDF raid in Jenin on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Courtesy)

The family of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who Israel says was likely killed by errant gunfire by an Israeli soldier during a firefight with Palestinian gunmen, on Tuesday praised a US decision to open a probe into her death.

“This is an important step,” a statement from the Palestinian-American family said of news that the FBI was opening an investigation, voicing hope for a “truly independent, credible and thorough probe.”

Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israel Defense Forces raid in the West Bank on May 11.

The veteran Al Jazeera reporter was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “Press” and a helmet when she was shot in the head in the Jenin refugee camp, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli army conceded on September 5 that one of its soldiers had likely shot Abu Akleh in error. A military official told reporters that a soldier had been identified who had “with very high likelihood” shot the journalist by mistake. “He misidentified her. His reports in real-time point to a misidentification,” the officer said. The US had hitherto accepted this conclusion.

The Abu Akleh family statement noted that it had been asking for a US probe “since the beginning.”

“It is what the United States should do when a US citizen is killed abroad, especially when they were killed, like Shireen, by a foreign military.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel “will not cooperate with an external investigation.”

“The decision taken by the US Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the tragic passing of Shireen Abu Akleh is a mistake. The IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the case details were shared,” Gantz said in a statement.

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, on May 19, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has refused to confirm or deny the investigation.

But Politico and Hebrew-language media outlets reported that the FBI was probing the May 11 shooting.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined a request to comment on Monday, as did the US Justice Department, though neither denied the opening of an investigation.

No prosecution

The Israeli army’s top lawyer has said that criminal charges against the soldier likely involved in the shooting were not merited, as the individual was acting in what Israel considered to be an active combat zone.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid has also rejected suggestions the soldier should be prosecuted.

“I will not allow an IDF soldier that was protecting himself from terrorist fire to be prosecuted just to receive applause from abroad,” Lapid told a military ceremony.

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)

Last week, Abu Akleh’s family and colleagues told UN investigators that she had been deliberately targeted as part of Israel’s “wide-scale war” on Palestinian media workers, and called for accountability and justice.

Doha-based Al Jazeera and the Qatari state have also alleged that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted by Israeli soldiers.

Based on the final findings of its probe, the IDF said in September it was still “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire” that killed Abu Akleh, but that “there is a high probability that Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.”

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