Palestinian rights group claims evidence shows Abu Akleh intentionally killed by IDF

Military denies accusation, calling the paper by blacklisted organization Al Haq ‘biased and misleading’

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

This screenshot shows a view of the site where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was killed amid a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin in May, in a video published by Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture on Sepetember 20, 2022. (Screenshot: YouTube)
This screenshot shows a view of the site where Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was killed amid a gun battle between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen in Jenin in May, in a video published by Al-Haq and Forensic Architecture on Sepetember 20, 2022. (Screenshot: YouTube)

A Palestinian human rights group and a London-based research firm on Tuesday published a new report they said showed Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted by Israeli troops in May.

The probe of the deadly shooting was carried out by the Al-Haq rights group alongside Forensic Architecture, a research group based at the University of London that uses architectural technologies to investigate human rights violations.

Al-Haq had its offices in Ramallah shuttered by Israel last month. The move came 10 months after the Defense Ministry designated Al-Haq and several other Palestinian groups as terrorist organizations, over their alleged links to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a leftist terror group. The international community has said Israel has failed to provide convincing evidence to back up its claims.

The new report said it used previously unseen footage and “advanced spatial and audio analysis” to determine that Abu Akleh was “explicitly targeted” by Israeli troops.

The IDF told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that it “rejects the claims that Abu Akleh was shot intentionally” and that the new investigation was “biased and misleading.”

The 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli military operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank on May 11.

The Israel Defense Forces initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh was likely killed by Israeli soldiers, though it stressed the incident was an accident.

Earlier this month, when publishing its final probe into the matter, a military official told reporters that a soldier had been identified who had “with very high likelihood” shot the journalist by mistake.

Based on the final findings of its probe, the IDF said it was still “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire” that killed Abu Akleh, but that “there is a high probability that Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.”

Forensic Architecture and Al-Haq said they employed a “precise digital reconstruction” of the deadly shooting, including using drone videos, photographs of the site, and a telephoto camera lens to simulate the view of the Israeli soldier’s 4x scope.

“We identified the bullet retrieved from Shireen’s skull as common to IOF military ‘marksmen,’ whose guns are commonly equipped with an optical scope (Trijicon) that magnifies their vision 4x and would have made their targets clearly visible,” the report said, referring to the IDF as “Israeli Occupation Forces.”

The report said that an analysis of the bullets’ trajectory revealed that there was a “clear line of fire to the group of journalists” and the close proximity of their impact points indicated “precise aim.”

Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift memorial at the site where Palestinian-American Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 19, 2022. (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

The new investigation said shooting aimed at Abu Akleh and other journalists continued as they sought to take cover, until the Al Jazeera reporter was hit, “supporting the assessment that she was the target.”

In its response to The Times of Israel, the IDF said: “Shooting carried out by IDF soldiers during the incident was aimed at those identified as armed terrorists. It should be emphasized that it was found that there is no suspicion that a shot was fired by the IDF soldiers at those identified as civilians, and in particular as journalists.”

According to the new report, and other independent probes, no armed Palestinians were in the immediate area near the group of journalists.

A military official told reporters earlier this month that Abu Akleh was likely shot by mistake, in a case of mistaken identity, despite the “Press” vest and helmet.

A criminal probe was not opened as the Military Advocate General found “no suspicion of criminal offenses” based on “all the findings collected and examined,” the IDF said, meaning neither the soldier nor anyone in his chain of command would face punishment.

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 head of legal research and advocacy at Al-Haq, Susan Power, said the “intentional shooting and killing of Shireen Abu Akleh by Israeli Occupying Forces is indicative of Israel’s willful disregard for the lives of Palestinians held under its settler colonial apartheid regime.”

Abu Akleh was highly respected in the Arab world for her decades covering Palestinians and other Arab communities.

The IDF expressed “sorrow” over Abu Akleh’s death.

Her family has criticized the IDF’s investigation, saying that the army “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility” for the killing.

Rights groups say Israeli investigations of the shooting deaths of Palestinians often languish for months or years before being quietly closed and that soldiers are rarely held accountable.

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