'We want journalists to feel safe in Israel'

On anniversary, IDF spokesman apologizes for Shireen Abu Akleh’s death for 1st time

Exactly a year after Al Jazeera reporter was shot dead while covering an IDF operation in the West Bank, Daniel Hagari tells CNN ‘we are very sorry’ for incident

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)

Exactly a year after prominent Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, the IDF spokesperson for the first time issued an apology Wednesday for the incident, which caused widespread international condemnation.

The 51-year-old Abu Akleh, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed on May 11, 2022, during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering a military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, amid a wider anti-terror crackdown, according to the official account provided by the IDF.

While the Israeli army has conducted its own investigation and acknowledged the bullet that killed her was “in very high likelihood” shot from an IDF gun, it has firmly rejected allegations that the veteran journalist was deliberately targeted.

During an interview with CNN Wednesday, IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari said when asked about the matter: “I think it’s an opportunity for me to say here that we are very sorry [for] the death of the late Shireen Abu Akleh.

“She was a journalist, a very established journalist,” he added. “In Israel, we are a democracy, and in a democracy we see high value in journalism and in free press. We want journalists to feel safe in Israel, especially in wartime, and even if they criticize us, we want them to feel safe. It’s all about democracy, and we are a liberal democracy.”

Abu Akleh’s family filed an official complaint with the ICC in September. The court’s Office of the Prosecutor will presumably determine whether to launch an investigation into the case.

In December, Al Jazeera submitted to the ICC what it said was detailed evidence allegedly proving that the Israel Defense Forces deliberately shot dead its Palestinian-American reporter. The United States rejected the move at the time, saying the matter was not in the court’s purview.

But Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, told a press conference in The Hague at the time: “My family still doesn’t know who fired that deadly bullet and who was in the chain of command that killed my aunt. The evidence is overwhelmingly clear, we expect the ICC to take action.”

Al Jazeera’s lawyer Rodney Dixon accused Israel of a “complete cover-up.” He alleged that her killing was part of a “systematic and widespread campaign” against the Qatari government-owned network by Israel.

Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court’s jurisdiction. The US is also not a member of the court, which was set up in 2002 as a war crimes court of last resort.

Palestinians visit the site where veteran Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed, in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 18, 2022. (AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Israel has said it will not cooperate with any external probe into Abu Akleh’s death.

In November, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation said it was launching a probe into Abu Akleh’s death. Israel said it would not cooperate with the investigation.

AFP contributed to this report.

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