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In DC, Abu Akleh’s family says no help from US for full probe into killing

Relatives of slain US-Palestinian reporter say top US diplomat told them decision was up to Justice Department but declined to refer them to other officials

Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, speaks to the Associated Press at the US Capitol during a trip to Washington, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Family members are in the nation's capital asking the Biden administration for an investigation into Shireen's death. (AP/Nathan Ellgren)
Lina Abu Akleh, the niece of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, speaks to the Associated Press at the US Capitol during a trip to Washington, Wednesday, July 27, 2022. Family members are in the nation's capital asking the Biden administration for an investigation into Shireen's death. (AP/Nathan Ellgren)

WASHINGTON — A relative of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh said Wednesday that the Biden administration’s top diplomat refused her face-to-face appeal to push for a full US investigation into the killing of the veteran television correspondent.

Niece Lina Abu Akleh also said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US officials declined in meetings with her this week to provide any more information than they had already made public about how Americans reached the findings about the killing that they released this month.

A July 4 statement issued by the State Department concluded that Israeli forces likely fired the shot that killed Shireen Abu Akleh in May, but that there was no indication Israelis intentionally shot the veteran Al Jazeera correspondent. The 51-year-old reporter, an American citizen, was highly respected in the Arab world for her decades covering Palestinians and other Arab communities.

“I felt like we left the meeting with more questions. And our questions were still not answered,” her 27-year-old niece told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday at the Capitol, where she pressed lawmakers for help obtaining more answers.

Lina received an invitation to Washington along with several other relatives of Abu Akleh during a phone call from Blinken earlier this month. Blinken had called Abu Akleh’s family the day before Joe Biden’s trip to Israel. The family’s request for a meeting with the president while he was in the Middle East was not granted, but Blinken invited the family to Washington instead.

State Department spokesman Ned Price did not immediately address questions from the AP about the niece’s account of her discussion Tuesday with Blinken.

Price referred instead Wednesday to his earlier remarks to reporters that Blinken was meeting with Shireen Abu Akleh’s family to express a “message of condolence … and a message of the priority we attach to accountability going forward,” as well as to hear from her family.

Days before Abu Akleh’s family went to Washington, a senior administration official told The Times of Israel that the US would not be opening its own investigation into the reporter’s May 11 killing.

Abu Akleh was shot and killed during gunbattles between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. After a wave of deadly terror attacks in Israeli cities since March, some of which were carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area, the IDF stepped up its raids in the West Bank in what the army said was an effort to tamp down the violence.

Washington announced earlier this month after reviewing evidence that it was not possible to definitively determine who killed the reporter and that there was no reason to believe the shooting was deliberate, but said the Israeli army was likely responsible.

The State Department conclusion came after US Security Coordinator in Jerusalem General Mike Fenzel reviewed both Israeli and Palestinian investigations, and ballistic experts from his office examined the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, which was too damaged to draw a definitive conclusion.

The results enraged Abu Akleh’s family, which called the conclusions “treasonous.” Over a dozen Democratic Congress members also argued that relying on Israeli and Palestinian investigations was not sufficient and that US authorities should conduct their own probe that would directly gather evidence and question those involved.

But a senior administration official said Thursday that the White House was satisfied with Fenzel’s reliance on the Israeli and Palestinian investigations.

A photo of slain US-Palestinian Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, with a caption in Arabic reading ‘Shireen Abu Akleh, the voice of Palestine,’ is seen ahead of a joint press conference between the US and Palestinian Authority presidents in Bethlehem on July 15, 2022. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

The official reiterated the Biden administration’s call for Israel to conclude its own probe and release the findings as soon as possible.

Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, say Israeli troops killed her and that there were no militants in the immediate vicinity or any exchange of fire at the time she was shot.

The PA said its investigation proved that the Al Jazeera journalist was intentionally targeted and killed by the IDF during a raid in the northern West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin after a series of terror attacks against Israelis, including some carried out by Jenin residents.

Israel flatly rejected the PA’s claim as a blatant lie and said there is not enough evidence to draw a definitive conclusion about who fired the fatal bullet.

Abu Akleh’s family has pressed the Biden administration to push for more accounting in the killing of a US citizen and for details about how their conclusions were reached.

Relatives of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, including her brother Tony Abu Akleh (L), her niece Lina Abu Akleh (C), and nephew Victor Abu Akleh (2L), stand outside the State Department in Washington, DC, on July 26, 2022, after meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (OLIVIER DOULIERY / AFP)

Lina Abu Akleh said she asked Blinken that question when she met with him. He responded, she said, by saying, “There was no one qualified to say if it was intentional or not.”

“Then why would they release a statement as such?” she asked Wednesday. “That is very damaging to the truth.”

When she requested a US-led investigation, she said Blinken said that decision was up to the Justice Department and not the State Department. She said Blinken declined to refer the family to other US officials who had authority to undertake such an investigation.

A family statement released after the US announced its conclusion this month called the explanation “insulting” and pointed to America’s strong ties with Israel, an important ally.

Lina Abu Akleh was the family’s main voice this week during the Washington trip to meet with administration officials, legislators and reporters.

Shireen Abu Akleh, who lived and worked in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, had spent Christmas last year with her niece in the United States. The journalist was supposed to have spent her summer vacation with her niece and other extended family in California.

“She was a very proud citizen,” the niece said. “And unfortunately, that US citizenship hasn’t been helping her toward getting justice.”

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