The US on Monday called for accountability after the IDF said an Israeli soldier likely accidentally shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian girl during a firefight in Jenin over the weekend.
State Department spokesman Ned Price was asked about the incident by a Palestinian reporter who regularly asks him to condemn Israeli actions at press briefings.
“We do express our profound condolences to the family of Jana Zakarna, the young teenage girl who was killed,” Price responded. “It’s a heartbreaking incident any time you hear of a civilian being killed in these types of [military] operations.
“We understand the IDF is undertaking an investigation into what happened. We hope to see accountability in this case,” he added.
The Biden administration made a similar appeal for accountability in the case of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was determined by Israel and the US to likely have been killed by Israeli forces during a firefight that broke out during a raid in Jenin. However, Abu Akleh was a US citizen.
The State Department at the time urged a review of the IDF’s live-fire rules — a recommendation that was swiftly rejected by Israel — while appearing to stop short of demanding the arrest of Israeli soldiers.
Last month, however, the Justice Department decided to launch an FBI investigation into the killing, which Israel has declared it will not cooperate with.
During Monday’s briefing, Price noted outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s statement expressing condolences to Zakarne’s family, in which the premier also reiterated his backing for the Israel Defense Forces.
“Her tragic death comes in the context of the escalating violence in the West Bank that we’ve noted and lamented for some time now,” Price said. “[There has been] an alarming increase in Palestinian and Israeli deaths and injuries, including injuries to numerous children and now the death of a young Palestinian teenager. We reiterate the need for all parties to take steps to de-escalate the situation. It’s vital that the parties themselves take urgent action to prevent even greater loss of life.”
Zakarna was killed after being struck in the head by a bullet, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. She had been on the roof of her home as a fierce gun battle broke out in Jenin following an Israeli operation to arrest three terror suspects, according to the IDF. Soldiers returned fire after being shot at by Palestinian gunmen, who also launched explosives at the troops, the military said.
The IDF, citing an initial probe of the shooting, said earlier Monday that it believed with “high probavility” that the girl was accidentally shot and killed by a Border Police sniper during the raid.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh urged a senior visiting United Nations official to place Israel on its blacklist of countries that mistreat children in armed conflict following Zakarna’s killing, and senior Palestinian official Hussein Al Sheikh called on “regional and international bodies to immediately investigate the execution”
According to Zakarna’s uncle, the girl had gone to the roof to look for a pet.
“She went up to fetch her cat and never came back, so her brother went up to look for her; he opened the door and found Jana lying here on her back,” Yasser Mahmoud Zakarna, 28, told AFP.
Describing his niece’s wounds, he said she was “shot with four bullets in deadly spots: in the head, the face, and twice in the chest. They have truly killed childhood.”
After his niece’s death, Zakarna said, “There’s no way to be safe” during the frequent raids.
Tensions have been high in the West Bank over the past year, with the IDF conducting an ongoing major anti-terror offensive mostly focused on the northern West Bank to deal with a series of Palestinian attacks.
The operation has netted more than 2,500 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has also left more than 165 Palestinians dead, many of them — but not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.
Many deadly clashes have occurred in the Jenin and Nablus area, where Israel’s forces have concentrated most arrest operations.
In recent months, Palestinian gunmen have also repeatedly targeted military posts, troops operating along the West Bank security barrier, Israeli settlements, and civilians on the roads.
The IDF has recorded around 300 shooting attacks and attempts against Israeli civilians and soldiers in the West Bank this year, compared to 91 last year.
There has also been an uptick in settler attacks on Palestinians and their property, though rights groups lament that these have rarely led to arrests by Israel.