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US opposes Al Jazeera taking journalist Abu Akleh’s killing to ICC

State Department says International Criminal Court should instead focus on its core mission of being ‘last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes’

Rodney Dixon, lawyer for Al Jazeera, center with letter, and Lina Abu Akleh, niece of fatally shot Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, right, walk to to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to present a letter requesting a formal investigation into the killing, December 6, 2022. (Peter Dejong/AP)
Rodney Dixon, lawyer for Al Jazeera, center with letter, and Lina Abu Akleh, niece of fatally shot Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, right, walk to to the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, to present a letter requesting a formal investigation into the killing, December 6, 2022. (Peter Dejong/AP)

The United States on Tuesday came out against Al Jazeera for taking the killing of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh to the International Criminal Court, saying the matter was not in the court’s purview.

“We oppose it,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters.

“The ICC should focus on its core mission, and that core mission is of serving as a court of last resort in punishing and deterring atrocity crimes,” he added at a press briefing.

Earlier, the Qatari state-owned television network submitted to the ICC what it said was detailed evidence allegedly proving that the Israel Defense Forces deliberately shot dead its reporter Abu Akleh during clashes in the West Bank in May.

Any person or group can file a complaint to the ICC prosecutor for investigation, but the Hague-based court is not obliged to take them on.

“My family still doesn’t know who fired that deadly bullet and who was in the chain of command that killed my aunt,” Abu Akleh’s niece, Lina Abu Akleh, told a press conference in The Hague.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear, we expect the ICC to take action,” she said, adding that they had asked for a meeting with prosecutor Karim Khan.

Lina Abu Akleh, niece of fatally shot Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, waits outside the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, December 6, 2022. (Peter Dejong/AP)

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 Al Jazeera by Israel that also included the bombing of a Gaza building housing Al Jazeera’s office and the bureau of the US news agency the Associated Press last year.

“There’s a clear attempt to shut Al Jazeera down and silence it,” Dixon told the press conference.

“We are hopeful that there will now be justice for Shireen.”

Israel is not an ICC member and disputes the court’s jurisdiction. The US is also not a member.

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

“No one will investigate IDF (Israeli military) soldiers and no one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera,” Prime Minister Yair Lapid said in a statement.

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

While the Israeli army 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.

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)

Al Jazeera’s new information was published Thursday in a documentary, including video evidence purportedly showing that at least one Israeli soldier intentionally targeted a group of reporters that included Abu Akleh, and that she was not a victim of errant fire during a gun battle between troops and Palestinian gunmen as the IDF has claimed.

The new evidence showed there was no firing in the area except by Israeli soldiers and that journalists were in “full view” and walking slowly down an empty road with “distinctive” media vests, said the channel.

“The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded,” it added.

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.

After the complaint in September, the IDF told The Times of Israel that it rejects the claim that Abu Akleh was shot intentionally and said the establishment of a new investigation would be “biased and misleading.”

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)

The ICC, which was set up in 2002 as a war crimes court of last resort, last year launched a probe in the Palestinian territories.

After receiving complaints from individuals or groups, the ICC prosecutor decides independently what cases to submit to judges at the court.

Judges decide whether to allow a preliminary investigation by the prosecutor, which can then be followed by a formal investigation and if warranted, charges.

In the majority of cases, such complaints do not lead to investigations, according to the ICC.

Last month, 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.

The decision on an FBI probe represented an about-face, after US President Joe Biden’s administration insisted for months that it would not be opening its own investigation, instead relying on probes conducted by the Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The US had until then appeared to accept the Israeli conclusion.

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