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US won’t run own probe of Abu Akleh killing, hopes PA will share bullet with Israel

Biden administration official rebuffs call from 57 Democrats to launch FBI investigation, tells ToI the US has been advising the parties on their respective probes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

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)
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)

WASHINGTON — The US will not carry out its own investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen, a Biden administration official told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

Instead, the US will continue advising the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority on their own respective probes into the May 11 incident. “We’re helping them review how they investigate,” the official said, declining to elaborate further on the matter.

Israel is investigating the incident but says that only a ballistic analysis of the bullet — which is held by the PA — and the soldiers’ guns, can determine if one of them fired the fatal shot. The PA has refused to hand over the bullet, saying it doesn’t trust Israel and pointing to previous cases of killings by soldiers who received little or no punishment.

Nonetheless, the US hopes the PA will share its “evidence” with Israel, the administration official said when asked about the bullet.

The PA announced earlier Thursday that its investigators had concluded the lethal bullet was deliberately fired by an Israeli soldier. PA Attorney General Akram Khatib said at a press conference that forensic evidence indicated Abu Akleh was fatally shot from behind while attempting to run away from sudden bursts of Israeli gunfire. However, he didn’t present the evidence, and Israel immediately rejected the findings as blatantly false.

The IDF is slated to announce the results of its own investigation in the coming days, an Israeli official said, while clarifying that they would likely not be definitive given that the bullet remains in the PA’s possession. Regardless, Military Police will not open its own probe as prosecutors do not believe there is suspicion of criminal activity by the soldiers, the Israeli official confirmed.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a ceremony for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was killed amid clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an IDF raid, in Ramallah on May 12, 2022. (Abbas Momani / AFP)

Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog said earlier this month that Israel was prepared to carry out a joint investigation with the PA and that the US could join as an observer, given that Abu Akleh was also an American citizen.

But State Department spokesman Ned Price indicated on Wednesday that the US preferred that the parties investigate on their own and relay their findings when they are ready.

“We have made clear to both Israeli and Palestinian authorities that we expect the investigations to be transparent and impartial — a full, thorough accounting into the circumstances of the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh,” Price said during a press briefing. “We have conveyed to our partners that we do expect to be updated on the status of their investigations, but in the end, we want to see accountability.

The Biden administration official’s rejection of a US probe was likely to disappoint progressive members of Congress, 57 of whom penned a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Chris Christopher Wray last Friday calling on their offices to launch an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.

“The Israeli military claimed that the victims were caught between gunfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli Defense Forces. However, media and eyewitnesses had conflicting reports… that there were no clashes or shootings in the immediate area,” the House members wrote, saying that the “tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding” Abu Akleh’s death warranted an independent US probe.

Herzog said in a response letter that the claims were “made by parties with a particular agenda” and that “significant evidence” documents “the exchange of fire at the scene.”

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