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IDF set to use satellite imagery, mapping experts in probe of journalist’s death

Senior special ops officer to also join investigation into Shireen Abu Akleh killing; criminal probe not expected unless evidence shows a soldier acted deliberately or negligently

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 Israel Defense Forces is reportedly set to begin a new round of investigations into the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, this time focusing on the use of satellite imagery and mapping experts.

Soldiers from the IDF’s 9900 Visual Intelligence Unit with a specialization in mapping will take part in the investigation to clarify who fired the bullet that killed the Palestinian-American journalist on May 11, the Ynet news site reported Sunday.

The deputy head of the Military Intelligence special operations will also participate.

The report said that a criminal probe was not expected, unless new evidence came to light showing that an Israeli soldier acted deliberately or with negligence in the lead-up to Abu Akleh’s death.

The use of satellite imagery for the investigation came in the wake of a number of reports by international news organizations and the United Nations claiming that an IDF soldier fired the bullet that killed the journalist.

Israel initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh could also have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

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 Palestinian-American journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while she was covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

According to Ynet, the army estimates that more than 1,000 bullets were fired by both sides during the gunfight in Jenin.

Israeli military officials have said that they have identified a gun that could have fired the shot that killed Abu Akleh, but that confirmation would require ballistic analysis to match the gun to the bullet. Ramallah has refused to turn over the bullet to Israel and to conduct a joint investigation.

The IDF has condemned several independent investigations into Abu Akleh’s death that concluded she was shot by Israeli soldiers, with some of them claiming she was deliberately targeted. It called the international probes “biased.”

The United Nations said Friday that its findings showed that the shot that killed Al Jazeera TV journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11 was fired by Israeli forces.

In line with its human rights monitoring methodology, the UN rights office inspected photo, video and audio material, visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications and interviewed witnesses.

The findings showed that seven journalists arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin refugee camp soon after 6 a.m. At around 6:30 a.m., as four of the journalists turned into a particular street, “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli security forces,” the UN stated on Friday.

“The shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities,” UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said.

Illustrative: Gunmen fire on Israeli forces during a raid in the northern West Bank city of Jenin, May 13, 2022. (Nasser Ishtayeh/Flash90)

She said that the information reviewed came from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general.

“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” Shamdasani said.

The Israeli military on Friday rejected the UN report, saying the investigation was flawed without access to crucial ballistic data.

In a statement titled “Where is the bullet,” the Israel Defense Forces again urged the Palestinian Authority to hand over the bullet, as it and cabinet ministers questioned the methodology and fairness of the probe.

“The Palestinian refusal to hand over the bullet and hold a joint investigation indicates their priorities,” the IDF said in its statement.

While the IDF says it can’t conclusively say who shot her until it gets the bullet, it reiterated that its investigations up till now have shown she was definitely not targeted deliberately.

Israeli soldiers patrol on March 30, 2022 a village south of Jenin in the West Bank. (AFP)

The veteran Al Jazeera journalist was a familiar face to millions of viewers across the Arab world. An American citizen who held an Israeli-issued East Jerusalem identity card, Abu Akleh was widely regarded as a trailblazing correspondent, both for women and for Palestinians. Her death shocked Palestinians and sparked an international outcry.

The Palestinian Authority, which conducted its own investigation, immediately blamed Israeli soldiers for the killing. According to PA chief prosecutor Akram Khatib, forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony proved that Abu Akleh was fleeing when she was deliberately targeted and killed by Israeli troops.

Israeli authorities rejected the PA’s findings as false and have continued with their own probe into the incident.

AFP contributed to this report.

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