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Military Police will not open probe into Al Jazeera reporter’s killing – report

Haaretz says prosecutors do not see possibility of criminality during gunfight — but may also want to avoid controversy of interrogating soldiers

A mural of slain of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is on display, in Gaza City, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
A mural of slain of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is on display, in Gaza City, May 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Military Police will not open an investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin last week, despite suspicions it may have been an Israeli soldier that shot her, according to a report Thursday.

The unsourced Haaretz report said military prosecutors do not consider Abu Akleh’s death one in which there is suspicion of criminality.

The military is investigating Abu Akleh’s death, but not through legal channels. A preliminary Israeli probe said it seemed there were two possibilities as to who caused the reporter’s death during exchanges of fire in the West Bank city — one involving an instance of indiscriminate Palestinian gunfire, and the other a case of possible errant IDF sniper fire during combat.

But the newspaper pointed to another possible reason for the decision not to open a Military Police probe: Such an investigation would necessitate interrogating troops that participated in the battle under caution, which would likely ignite a storm of controversy within Israeli society.

The report noted, however, that such a decision would likely bring about serious criticism from Washington. Abu Akleh was an American Palestinian citizen.

Abu Akleh, a 25-year veteran of Al Jazeera, was killed last Wednesday during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin. She was a household name across the Arab world, known for documenting the harshness of Palestinian life under Israeli control.

Shireen Abu Akleh reporting from the West Bank for Al Jazeera in an undated clip (Al Jazeera screenshot)

Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military has said she may have been hit by Palestinian gunmen or errant Israeli fire.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel, and have invited other countries to join the investigation. Human rights groups say Israel has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.

Over the weekend, Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, published an analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at such factors as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots.

The group found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.

“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF (Israeli soldiers) were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, the lead researcher of the analysis.

Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis cannot be 100% certain without such evidence as the bullet, weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces. But he said the emergence of additional evidence typically bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.

Jonathan Conricus, a former Israeli military spokesman and expert on military affairs, said reconstructing a gunfight in densely populated urban terrain is “very complex” and said forensic evidence, such as the bullet, is crucial to reach firm conclusions. He accused the Palestinian Authority of refusing to cooperate for propaganda purposes.

“Without the bullet, any investigation will only be able to reach partial and questionable conclusions,” Conricus said. “One might assume that the strategy of the Palestinian Authority is exactly that: to deny Israel the ability to clear its name, while leveraging global sympathy for the Palestinian cause.”

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost toplling it, during her funeral in Jerusalem, May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

Meanwhile, Israeli police over the weekend launched an investigation into the conduct of officers who attacked the mourners at Abu Akleh’s funeral, causing the pallbearers to nearly drop her coffin.

Newspapers on Sunday were filled with criticism of the police and what was portrayed as a public relations debacle.

“The footage from Friday is the very opposite of good judgment and patience,” commentator Oded Shalom wrote in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily. “It documented a shocking display of unbridled brutality and violence.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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