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‘Where’s the bullet’: Israel rejects UN probe blaming reporter’s death on IDF

Hours after UN rights office claims Shireen Abu Akleh killed by Israeli security forces, military says it can’t complete investigation without examining bullet, held by PA

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

File: 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 Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)
File: 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 Photo/Majdi Mohammed, File)

The Israeli military on Friday rejected a United Nations report claiming that its soldiers shot the bullet that killed al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, saying the investigation was flawed without access to crucial ballistic data.

In a statement titled “Where is the bullet,” the Israel Defense Forces again urged the Palestinian Authority to hand over the bullet, as it and government ministers questioned the methodology and fairness of the probe.

The Palestinian-American journalist, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed during clashes between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen while covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Israel initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh could also have been killed by Israeli soldiers.

“The IDF again urges the Palestinians to hand over the bullet,” the army said Friday, hours after UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters that they found “the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli security forces.”

“The Palestinian refusal to hand over the bullet and hold a joint investigation indicates their priorities,” the IDF said in its Friday’s statement.

In line with its human rights monitoring methodology, the UN rights office inspected photo, video and audio material, visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications and interviewed witnesses.

The findings showed that seven journalists arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin refugee camp soon after 6 a.m. At around 6:30 a.m., as four of the journalists turned into a particular street, “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli security forces,” the UN stated on Friday.

“The shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities,” Shamdasani said earlier.

She said that the information reviewed came from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general.

“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” Shamdasani said.

Israeli military officials have said that they have identified a gun that could have fired the shot that killed Abu Akleh, but that confirmation would require ballistic analysis to match the gun to the bullet. Ramallah has refused Israeli calls to hold a joint investigation or turn over the bullet to Israel.

The IDF has condemned several independent investigations into Abu Akleh’s death that concluded she was shot by Israeli soldiers, with some claiming she was deliberately targeted. It called the probes “biased.”

While the IDF says it can’t conclusively say who shot her until it gets the bullet, it reiterated that its investigations up till now have shown she was definitely not targeted deliberately.

Israeli soldiers patrol on March 30, 2022 a village south of Jenin in the West Bank. (AFP)

“The IDF investigation clearly concludes that Ms. Abu Akleh was not intentionally shot by an IDF soldier and that it is not possible to determine whether she was killed by a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately in her area or inadvertently by an IDF soldier,” the military said Friday.

“The IDF regrets harm to non-combatants, including during exchanges of fire and active combat situations, and is heavily invested in maintaining the movement and freedom of the press,” it added.

Several Israeli ministers also commented on the UN probe.

“I once again express my sorrow over the death of journalist Sheerin Abu Akleh,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Twitter. “Her family and friends deserve to know the truth about the circumstances of her death — and this can only be determined by a ballistic examination of the bullet from which she was hit and not by investigations disconnected from reality such as the one published by the UN Human Rights Office.”

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman said in a tweet he “does not know based on what investigations the UN Human Rights Office has determined that the Al Jazeera journalist was killed by IDF gunfire, but this is a disgusting allegation that cannot be accepted by us.”

Palestinians hold a poster displaying veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was shot dead during clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen as she covered an IDF raid on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp on May 11, 2022, in the West Bank city of Hebron. The poster reads in Arabic, ‘Martyrdom of Journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh’. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Shamdasani said it was “deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation.” Top army prosecutor Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi recently said there was currently “no immediate suspicion of criminal activity” during the incident in Jenin, meaning the IDF would not open a criminal probe unless evidence suggested otherwise.

The veteran Al Jazeera journalist was a familiar face to millions of viewers across the Arab world. An American citizen who held an Israeli-issued East Jerusalem identity card, Abu Akleh was widely regarded as a trailblazing correspondent, both for women and for Palestinians. Her death shocked Palestinians and sparked an international outcry.

The Palestinian Authority, which conducted its own investigation, immediately blamed Israeli soldiers for the killing. According to PA chief prosecutor Akram Khatib, forensic evidence and eyewitness testimony proved that Abu Akleh was fleeing when she was deliberately targeted and killed by Israeli troops.

Israeli authorities rejected the PA’s findings as false and have continued with their own probe into the incident.

“Any claim that the IDF intentionally targets journalists or those uninvolved [in terror] is a crude and blatant lie,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement last month.

AFP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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