The US said it would continue to pressure Israel to reexamine its military’s rules of engagement Tuesday, after an IDF probe into the killing of Palestinian-American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh determined that errant fire from an Israeli soldier was likely responsible.
“We’re going to continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists and prevent similar tragedies in the future. That is a key goal for us,” State Department Deputy Spokesman Vedant Patel said.
The prepared statement from Patel, which sharpened an earlier US reaction, would appear to indicate that the Biden administration remains unsatisfied with steps Israel has taken since the Al-Jazeera journalist was killed while covering a firefight on May 11.
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 that broke out after the Israel Defense Forces raided the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank amid a wider terror crackdown.
The IDF declined a request to comment on Patel’s remarks.
The Biden administration has for months been pushing Israel to reform its open-fire policies, which include shouting at a suspect to halt, firing into the air, and only using deadly force if a soldier feels threatened.
The requests have been made during calls Secretary of State Antony Blinken has held with Israeli counterparts.
The Israel Defense Forces initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for shooting Abu Akleh, but later acknowledged that she could also have been killed by Israeli soldiers.
Following an internal review, an Israeli military official told reporters Monday that a soldier had been identified who had “with very high likelihood” shot the journalist by mistake, based on the army’s investigation.
“He misidentified her. His reports in real-time point to a misidentification,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The army said Monday that no criminal wrongdoing was suspected in the accidental killing.
The State Department’s initial response to the IDF probe did not mention continued pressure on Israel to reform its rules.
“We welcome Israel’s review of this tragic incident, and again underscore the importance of accountability in this case, such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.
The Palestinian Authority has said its own investigation proved that Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted and killed by the IDF during the raid — a conclusion Israel has flatly denied.
The US reviewed the PA’s investigation as well as the then-not-yet finished Israeli probe into Abu Akleh’s killing in addition to conducting a ballistic analysis of the bullet before saying in July that the shell was too damaged to reach a definitive conclusion but that an Israeli soldier was likely responsible.
Abu Akleh’s family and Palestinian leaders have accused Washington of failing to seek accountability from Israel over the killing of the journalist.
A handful of progressive Democrats in Congress have also called for an American investigation into the killing, though the idea has not been widely embraced on Capitol Hill.
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.
The publication of the findings by the IDF on Monday came following reported pressure by the United States, including during a recent visit by US Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf.
Leaf was in Israel and the West Bank from Thursday to Saturday for a low-profile visit that included meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials. The State Department said Leaf was in the region “to discuss a range of priorities,” which included “US interest in improving the quality of life for the Palestinian people.”
Few details emerged from her visit, though she reportedly told Israeli officials that Washington was troubled by escalating violence in the West Bank.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.