Israel Defense Forces chief Aviv Kohavi said he regretted the Wednesday morning death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank during an Israeli arrest raid, and vowed to fully investigate the circumstances of the incident.
Abu Akleh, 51, was shot in the head while covering an Israeli army operation in the city of Jenin. In footage from the scene after she was shot, Abu Akleh was seen wearing a press vest and helmet, identifying her as a journalist.
The Palestinians blamed Israel for her death, while Israeli officials said Palestinian gunmen may have fired the fatal shot.
“In the course of the [IDF] activity overnight, the Palestinians carried out widespread gunfire at our forces — wild, indiscriminate fire in all directions,” said Kohavi. “The journalist who was killed was present inside the area of the fighting.
“At this stage, it is not possible to determine whose gunfire she was hit by and we are sorry for her death,” Kohavi added, apparently slightly backtracking from earlier statements from Israeli officials that said Abu Akleh was “likely” hit by Palestinian bullets.
“In order to get to the truth, we have set up a special team that will clarify the facts and present them in full and as soon as possible,” Kohavi went on. The investigation team will be headed by Col. Meni Liberati, the head of the IDF’s Commando Brigade.
“The soldiers operated under fire, and showed courage and determination to protect the citizens of the country, and we will continue to do so wherever we are required,” Kohavi said.
Shireen Abu Akleh was a brave and professional journalist. This morning in Jenin, she was shot dead by Israeli forces – while wearing a PRESS vest – and so became a victim of the occupation she covered throughout her career.
Israel must be held accountable for this grave crime. pic.twitter.com/GH1Gkxhf85
— MK Aida Touma-Sliman (@AidaTuma) May 11, 2022
In the hours after the incident, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “according to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.”
Later Wednesday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset that initial findings showed no IDF fire had been directed at Abu Akleh, and said, “We have seen footage of indiscriminate shooting by Palestinian terrorists, which is likely to have hit the journalist.”
In a statement, the army said troops came under “an enormous amount of gunfire” during the operation. “We emphasize that caution must be exercised when entering and staying in areas where shooting is carried out by terrorist elements,” the military said.
The IDF also said footage circulating online was being examined in the military’s investigation.
The video of a Palestinian gunman opening fire, shared by Israeli officials, was filmed several hundred meters away, and it was unlikely the two incidents were directly related, according to the left-wing B’Tselem rights group.
This morning, B’Tselem’s field researcher in Jenin documented the exact locations in which the Palestinian gunman depicted in a video distributed by the Israeli army, fired, as well as the exact location in which Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. pic.twitter.com/6VbEJJuF7z
— B'Tselem בצלם بتسيلم (@btselem) May 11, 2022
Along with Kohavi’s statement, the military published a short clip of troops operating in Jenin.
Tensions have soared in the West Bank in recent weeks. Palestinian terrorists, many from the Jenin area, have crossed the fence into Israel to commit terror attacks, part of a bloody wave of violence that has left 19 people dead in Israel and the West Bank since late March.
Israeli forces have responded by cracking down in Jenin, stepping up raids and arrests in an attempt to restore order, and by stepping up patrols along the West Bank border. The security operations have often led to armed clashes with Palestinians.
According to the Palestinian Authority health ministry, 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops since late March. Some committed violent terror attacks, while others participated in clashes with soldiers, and some appeared to have been unarmed bystanders.