The United States said Tuesday that only experts on its own team examined the bullet that killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, after Israel claimed its own authorities had participated in the forensic analysis.
The Palestinian Authority had reluctantly handed over the bullet to the United States and said it was not giving it to Israel, fearing a whitewash. But on Monday, the Israeli army said in a statement that Israeli experts had done forensic analysis on the bullet in a laboratory in the Jewish state.
This came two days after IDF spokesman Ron Kochav further fanned the flames by claiming after the bullet was transferred to the US embassy in Jerusalem that US officials would merely be observing the Israeli analysis of the bullet.
The IDF clarified in its Monday statement that the bullet remained in the possession of US authorities from the moment the PA transferred it to them on Saturday until it was returned on Monday. Nonetheless, Kochav’s comments led to criticism in Palestinian circles that the analysis had been a joint US-Israeli venture.
On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price insisted that the examination was carried out by two members on the team of the US Security Coordinator (USSC), which liaises with the Palestinian Authority and Israel on security assistance.
He did not identify the experts by name or nationality, noting that non-Americans were on the staff, but said they had “a combined 42 years of experience.”
“Local experts, whether they were Israeli or Palestinian, did not conduct the USSC examination of the bullet,” Price said.
“The USSC had full custody of the bullet from the moment it was provided by the PA to the USSC until the moment it was returned by the USSC to the PA,” he said.
The State Department said Monday that the prominent Al Jazeera journalist was likely shot from an Israeli position as she covered clashes that broke out during an Israel Defense Forces raid in the West Bank on May 11 but that there was no evidence the killing was intentional and that the bullet was too damaged for a conclusive finding.
“It was the considered judgment of the USSC that this was not intentional and that this was nothing more than the tragic results of a counterterrorism operation in which a non-combatant — in this case a Palestinian-American journalist — was killed,” Price reiterated on Tuesday.
Price said the United States sought accountability but stopped short of recommending that Israel launch a criminal case. The IDF says they are still probing the death.
“As a professional military force, the IDF… is in a position to consider steps to see to it that something like this can’t happen again,” Price said.
Senior Palestinian officials accused the United States of covering up the truth and the family of Abu Akleh — who held US citizenship — said it was “incredulous” that the examination could not determine whose gun fired the bullet.
Meanwhile, two officials familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel Monday that Israel was angered by the State Department’s decision to say it was likely to blame for the shooting and told their American counterparts that conclusions should have been left out of the US statement, given that the bullet was found to be too damaged to reach a definitive answer.