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Christian leader pans Israel's 'disrespect of church'

Video shows cops storming hospital before reporter’s funeral, hitting people inside

Security camera footage shows officers with batons out in Jerusalem Saint Joseph’s Hospital before heavily criticized intervention at procession for Shireen Abu Akleh

Footage released Monday from last week’s funeral for slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh showed dozens of Israel Police officers rushing into a hospital before the procession began, hitting and shoving people inside, including patients, and firing from the grounds of the medical center.

The video clips — security footage from inside East Jerusalem’s Saint Joseph’s Hospital — were presented by local Christian leaders at a press conference during which they tore into police conduct during Abu Akleh’s funeral.

Police have already been under immense international scrutiny for other scenes captured at the Friday funeral, namely of officers rushing at and beating mourners as they carried Abu Akleh’s casket outside the hospital, nearly causing it to fall to the ground, and the firing of stun grenades.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American and a 25-year veteran of the Al Jazeera satellite channel, was killed last Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. The Palestinians insist that she was killed by army fire, while Israel has said there is not yet conclusive evidence that would determine whether she was shot by IDF soldiers or by Palestinian gunmen.

The footage released at Monday’s press conference showed dozens of officers — wearing helmets, protective vests and batons — rushing into the hospital before her funeral procession began.

Officers were also seen firing on the outside grounds of the hospital; it was not immediately clear what they had fired.

A clip shown at the press conference showed officers shoving a man on crutches to the ground as they ran through the hospital, leading to the victim getting trampled in the chaotic scene.

The Church leaders said during the press conference that they were weighing possible action against the police in both Israeli and international legal forums.

The press conference was organized by Vatican-affiliated patriarchs, highlighting the seriousness with which the Christian leaders are taking Israel’s conduct at Abu Akleh’s funeral.

The church leaders said they are consulting with the Vatican on whether to involve more senior, political figures in the Catholic Church.

Tomasz Grysa (2nd-L), First Counselor to the Apostolic Nunciature in Israel, speaks at a press conference regarding the events at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while accompanied by Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (2nd-R), Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (R) and the General Director of Saint Joseph Hospital Jamil Koussa (C), at the hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on May 16, 2022. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa condemned “Israel’s police invasion and disproportionate use of force” at the hospital, where her body was being held. He criticized the police for “attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades (and) shooting rubber bullets.”

Police stormed the hospital, “disrespecting the church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased, and forcing the pallbearers to almost drop the coffin,” he said, speaking on behalf of the bishops of the Holy Land.

The hospital is owned by the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition, a French-founded congregation that has been present in former Palestine and Israel for nearly 200 years.

In a police video, an officer is seen telling the crowd that the procession would not commence until the crowd stopped “nationalistic,” or Palestinian, chants.

Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa (C) speaks during a press conference while accompanied by the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III (C-R) and the General Director of Saint Joseph Hospital Jamil Koussa (C-L) regarding the events at the funeral of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, at the hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on May 16, 2022. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

The Israel Police has offered a series of explanations for its use of force on the day of the funeral, including claiming that a mob of “300 rioters” had seized the casket at the hospital. This was denied by Shireen Abu Akleh’s brother in an interview with The Times of Israel on Sunday.

The Haaretz daily said Sunday that police intervention stemmed from specific orders to take down any Palestinian flags seen at the funeral —  an order given by Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman, but overseen by his deputy, Danny Levi, as Turgeman himself was away in Germany as part of a police delegation on Friday.

In a statement issued Monday after the release of the hospital security camera footage, police said that a mob of hundreds of “lawbreakers” had entered St. Joseph’s and thrown stones, bottles and other objects at officers, causing a number of injuries.

“The police were forced to disperse and repel the violent lawbreakers, including those holding the coffin, and to make arrests in order to allow the funeral to take place,” police said, adding that their actions allowed the funeral to go ahead as planned.

Nonetheless, a decision was made to launch an internal probe of the police’s handling of the incident, law enforcement said.

Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over Abu Akleh’s death. Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military, after initially saying Palestinian gunmen might have been responsible, later backtracked and now says she may have been hit by errant Israeli fire, but a conclusive ruling is not yet possible.

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in east Jerusalem, on May 13, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Levin)

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinians, saying the bullet must be analyzed by ballistics experts to reach firm conclusions. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel. After first saying they would accept an outside partner, the Palestinians said late Sunday that they would handle the investigation alone and deliver results very soon.

“We also refused to have an international investigation because we trust our capabilities as a security institution,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced. “We will not hand over any of the evidence to anyone because we know that these people are able to falsify the facts.”

With the two sides at loggerheads over the Abu Akleh probe, several research and human rights groups have launched their own investigations.

In this undated photo provided by Al Jazeera Media Network, Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera network, stands next to a TV camera with the Old City of Jerusalem in the background. (Al Jazeera Media Network via AP)

Over the weekend, Bellingcat, a Dutch-based international consortium of researchers, published an analysis of video and audio evidence gathered on social media. The material came from both Palestinian and Israeli military sources, and the analysis looked at such factors as time stamps, the locations of the videos, shadows and a forensic audio analysis of gunshots.

The group found that while gunmen and Israeli soldiers were both in the area, the evidence supported witness accounts that Israeli fire killed Abu Akleh.

“Based on what we were able to review, the IDF were in the closest position and had the clearest line of sight to Abu Akleh,” said Giancarlo Fiorella, the lead researcher of the analysis.

Fiorella acknowledged that the analysis could not be 100% certain without such evidence as the bullet, weapons used by the army and GPS locations of Israeli forces. But he said the emergence of additional evidence typically bolsters preliminary conclusions and almost never overturns them.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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