PA: International groups can participate in probe into reporter’s death, not Israel

Palestinian official says groups can ‘communicate’ with prosecutors, doesn’t detail extent of participation; says violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral underlines why Israel can’t join

Protesters hold candles and a photo of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in Jenin, in Haifa on May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Protesters hold candles and a photo of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid in Jenin, in Haifa on May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Palestinian Authority said on Saturday that it would welcome the participation of international organizations in a probe into the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, but Israel would still not be permitted to join its investigation.

“We welcome the participation of all international bodies in the investigation of the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh, by communicating with the specialized Palestinian public prosecution, which issued its initial report yesterday,” Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs head Hussein al-Sheikh said on Twitter.

There was no further clarification on the extent of participation that would be allowed by any international organizations.

Al-Sheikh said that scenes of violence at Abu Akleh’s funeral on Friday had reinforced the belief of Palestinian officials that there should not be a joint investigation with Israel.

“What happened in [Abu Akleh’s] funeral yesterday by the occupation forces reinforces our position rejecting Israel’s participation in this investigation,” Al-Sheikh tweeted.

Scenes of Israeli police rushing participants in the funeral of Abu Akleh, using force against Palestinians who were carrying her casket outside a Jerusalem hospital and nearly toppling it, drew widespread condemnation on Friday.

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Commissioner Hussein al-Sheikh. (WAFA)

Abu Akleh, 51, was killed by gunfire Wednesday morning while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin.

While Israel has called for a joint investigation into the death of the reporter, the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected the request.

The White House has called for an “immediate and thorough” probe into the death of Abu Akleh, who held American citizenship, while the UN Security Council on Friday said it strongly condemned the killing, and called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation.”

Israel has told the United States it cannot definitively determine who fired the shot that killed Abu Akleh without examining the bullet removed from her neck, according to a Friday Israeli television report.

Channel 12 news said the US asked Israel for clarifications on the ongoing probe into the death of Abu Akleh. Israel reportedly responded by asking the US for assistance in the case, including in obtaining the bullet from the Palestinian Authority for analysis.

The Israel Defense forces said earlier Friday that the Palestinians had rejected offers for them to be present and take part in the inquiry alongside an American representative.

An interim report issued by the IDF earlier on Friday set out two likely scenarios regarding who fired the fatal shot — an instance of Palestinian terrorists’ gunfire and of Israeli sniper fire — in neither of which Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted.

In the case of Israeli sniper fire, the army said the probe involved a soldier who used a gun with a telescopic sight to fire back at a gunman through a slit in the armored vehicle he was riding in.

“The gunman fired bursts toward the IDF soldier several times and there is a possibility that the reporter was struck by the soldier’s fire toward [him],” a statement from the IDF said.

A masked Palestinian gunman fires an automatic weapon during clashes with Israeli security forces in the West Bank city of Jenin on May 13, 2022. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

According to Channel 12, IDF chief Aviv Kohavi held a closed meeting with several generals on Thursday — before the interim probe report was published — at which the possibility that Abu Akleh was hit by an Israeli bullet was discussed.

Two sources familiar with the discussion say this possibility was defined as “very likely,” the network reported.

The report said some of the meeting’s participants considered it no less likely and possibly more likely that she was hit by an errant IDF bullet than by indiscriminate Palestinian fire.

Kohavi reportedly said these were premature and speculative assessments — and ordered more expert input and a reconstruction of the events. During an operation in the Jenin area on Friday morning, troops also headed to the scene where Abu Akleh was killed, to attempt to reconstruct the events.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi speaks from a military base in the West Bank, on May 11, 2022. (Israel Defense Forces)

The IDF chief also said in the Thursday meeting that we “certainly think it is possible” that she was hit by IDF fire, but added that examining the bullet pulled from Abu Akleh’s neck would provide definitive answers, the TV report said.

An IDF spokesman told Channel 12 in response that it cannot currently definitively determine the circumstances of the reporter’s death, and that the military will continue to investigate and is committed to finding the truth.

Palestinian prosecutors said Friday that, according to their initial investigation, only IDF troops could have fired the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.

Palestinian investigators had found fresh evidence and markings on a tree at the scene of her death, and had determined that IDF troops were 150 meters (492 feet) away at the time of the incident, they said.

The bullet was transferred to a criminal forensic laboratory, which will issue a detailed report on the matter, reports said.

The release of the interim findings came as Abu Akleh’s funeral was held in Jerusalem. Israeli police rushed mourners and hit them with batons during the funeral, sparking global outrage. Police said officers intervened after “rioters” seized the coffin from Abu Akleh’s family, and that marchers had hurled glass bottles and other objects at police.

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

However, in an interview with the BBC on Friday, Abu Akleh’s brother Tony appeared to deny the Israel Police version of events, saying that the family and mourners hoped to hold a “small procession” but were “bombarded” by officers as they left the hospital. He did not clarify if the planned procession was on foot or by car.

The death of Abu Akleh, who covered the Mideast conflict for more than 25 years, sparked international condemnation.

The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately killing her and vowed to take legal action. Reporters who were with her said there were no Palestinian gunmen in the area.

Abu Akleh’s death came during a raid on Jenin, which has become the focus of Israel’s attempts to crack down on terror emanating from the West Bank.

Nineteen people have been killed in Palestinian attacks in recent weeks, with several of the terrorists coming from Jenin and the surrounding area. IDF activity has killed more than 30 Palestinians — most but not all of them were involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces.

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