Police were girding for possible unrest Friday ahead of the early afternoon funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of mourners expected to attend her Jerusalem funeral with tensions already running high.
Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter who covered the Mideast conflict for more than 25 years, was killed by gunfire to her upper body Wednesday morning while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during a military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. The death sparked international condemnation, though it is not yet clear who is responsible for her death.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of “executing” her and rejected Israeli calls for a joint investigation to determine responsibility. Israeli officials have declared that it is too soon to determine who fired the bullet that killed her. Defense Minister Benny Gantz was quoted telling foreign reporters on Wednesday night that it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her,” or fire from “our side.”
The veteran Al Jazeera reporter, a Palestinian Christian born in East Jerusalem, was set to be buried alongside her parents in a cemetery near Jerusalem’s Old City following a funeral at a church in the city.
The procession is expected to depart around 2 p.m. from the Beit Hanina neighborhood of Jerusalem and eventually culminate at the Christian Mount Zion Cemetery.
Hundreds of thousands of people were expected to take part in the funeral for Abu Akleh, which is slated to pass through Jaffa Gate and the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Police were expected to fan out across Jerusalem in bolstered numbers and were preparing to deal with violent flare-ups, with passions over the killing compounding tensions that brought Israel to the brink of war just weeks ago.
A police official told the Kan public broadcaster that every effort is being made to ensure the funeral proceeds without interruption.
“The whole world is looking at us and at this event,” the official was quoted as saying. “The goal is to prevent as much as possible any friction.”
Concern has also been voiced about potential clashes atop the Temple Mount, the flashpoint holy site that has been the location of repeated unrest over the past month. The funeral will take place just after midday prayers.
According to the Quds News Network, Hamas has called on its followers to barricade themselves inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the mount and prevent any Israeli forces from entering.
An Israeli raid into the mosque last month, after rioters barricaded themselves inside, sparked loud condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world and threats from Palestinians that the actions could lead to wider unrest.
Abu Akleh’s coffin was brought to Jerusalem from Ramallah Thursday, following what was described as a full state memorial at Abbas’s Ramallah compound, with officials, foreign diplomats and a long stream of mourners present.
“This crime should not go unpunished,” Abbas said during the memorial, adding that the Palestinian Authority held Israel “completely responsible” for her death.
“They cannot hide the truth with this crime,” he said as her body lay with a Palestinian flag draped over it. “They are the ones who committed the crime, and because we do not trust them, we will immediately go to the International Criminal Court.”
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi said “Palestinians carried out widespread gunfire at our forces — wild, indiscriminate fire in all directions” during the early Wednesday operation in Jenin. “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 said Wednesday afternoon, setting up an investigation.
Abu Akleh’s coffin began its journey from Ramallah to Jerusalem to the drumbeat of a marching band, as crowds chanted slogans demanding an end to Palestinian security cooperation with Israel.
Thousands lined the route as her coffin was driven through the West Bank city, where a street is to be renamed in her honor.
Many held flowers, wreaths and pictures of the slain journalist, who was widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism through her coverage of the conflict.
“Her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts,” said mourner Hadil Hamdan.
As her coffin reached the Qalandia crossing between Ramallah and Jerusalem, clashes broke out between Palestinians and Israeli troops, Channel 13 news reported. No injuries or arrests were reported. In footage broadcast by Al Jazeera, some masked Palestinians could be seen raising assault weapons and firing in the air.
Abu Akleh’s death came during a raid on Jenin, which has become the locus of Israel’s attempts to crack down on terror emanating from the West Bank.
At least 18 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks in recent weeks, as well as more than 30 Palestinians, most of them involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces. Among the slain Palestinians were an unarmed woman and at least two apparent passersby, fueling criticism that Israel often uses excessive force.
An initial autopsy of Abu Akleh’s body by Palestinian coroners found that it was “not possible” to tell whether she was killed by Israeli or Palestinian gunfire.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that the PA was hindering efforts to investigate the incident.
“I expect full, open and transparent cooperation,” he said, adding, “I also hope that the Palestinian Authority will not take any action meant to obstruct the investigation or compromise its due process in a way that will prevent us from reaching the truth.”
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera has accused Israel of deliberately killing her and vowed to take legal action. Reporters who were with her said there were no Palestinian terrorists in the area.
Asked about the investigation and Israel’s offer for the Palestinians to participate, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that US officials “stand ready to assist either party in any way that we can.”
”Neither side has asked for our assistance at this time and such a request would be required in order for us to do so,” she said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Herzog, said Thursday he had suggested to the US that it join the probe.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.