WASHINGTON -- U.S. officials claimed Monday that the bullet that killed Al Jazeera veteran reporter Shireen Abu Akleh likely came from an Israeli position. They said that the bullet was too damaged to be able to make an absolute determination and that there was no reason to believe she was intentionally targeted.
Ned Price, spokesperson for the State Department, announced the findings of the probe and said that "independent, independent third-party examiners had conducted an "extremely thorough forensic analysis" on the bullet that killed her, after it was handed over by the Palestinian Authority.
These results were announced before President Joe Biden's visit next week to the region. They are unlikely to resolve the issue. While the Palestinians reaffirmed their belief that Israel is to blame, Israel stated that it would continue its investigation and not address the conclusion by the U.S. that its troops may have been responsible.
Abu Akleh was a respected veteran Palestinian-American journalist who was well-known and respected around the Arab world. She was killed during an Israeli military raid in Jenin refugee camp, the occupied West Bank on May 11. Eyewitnesses from Palestine, including her crew, claim that she was killed by Israeli troops. There were no militants within the immediate area or any exchange of fire when she was shot.
Israel claims she was killed in a complex battle against militants from the Palestinians. Only a forensic analysis could determine if the bullet was fired by an Israeli soldier, or a militant. Although Israel strongly denies that she was intentionally targeted, it has suggested that an Israeli soldier might have accidentally hit her during an exchange fire with a militant.
Witness accounts of her death were supported by an Associated Press reconstruction. CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post investigations of her death led to similar conclusions. Monitoring by the U.N. Human Rights Chief also reached similar conclusions.
The United States has pressed Biden to hold the administration accountable and demand an investigation. Biden is currently planning to visit the region to confront anger about the killing.
U.S. security officers reviewed the results of separate Israeli and Palestinian investigations and concluded that "gunfire from IDF positions was likely to be responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh's death," Price stated in a statement. He was referring to the Israeli military as its acronym.
Price stated that the U.S. had "no reason to believe this was intentional, but rather the result tragic circumstances during an IDF military operation against factions Palestinian Islamic Jihad." Price did not provide any further information about how the operation came to an end.
The U.S. Security coordinator in the region conducted the probe. It was established in 2005 in order to support peace efforts. It coordinates between Israel, the PA and Palestinian security forces.
The findings were presented by Israel as part of an internal investigation. This was likely to anger Palestinian Authority. While the US officials handed over the bullet to the PA, it maintained that it was still opposed to any cooperation.
According to the Israeli military, the bullet was not taken into custody by U.S. officials during the entire process. However, Israeli experts examined it in an Israeli forensic laboratory.
The army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi ordered that the investigation continue "using all possible means," according to the military in a statement. It stated that any decision about whether to open a criminal investigation will only be made once the operational investigation has been completed.
Yair Lapid, Israeli Prime Minister, stated that although it could not determine who was responsible for Shireen Abu Akleh's tragic death, the IDF investigation proved conclusively that there had been no intent to harm her.
He didn't address the U.S. conclusion about the possibility that the bullet that hit her was fired from an Israeli position.
Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Authority both accused Israeli forces in a deliberate attack on Abu Akleh, just hours after her death.
Nabil Abu Rdeineh was a spokesperson for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abdul Abbas. He stated that the PA held Israel "fully responsible for Abu Akleh’s death and would not accept any manipulation of the Palestinian investigation results."
The PA manages some parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and collaborates with Israel in security matters.
Rights groups claim that Israeli investigations into the shooting deaths in Gaza often lag for months to years, before being closed quietly. They also say that soldiers are seldom held responsible. B'Tselem, an Israeli rights group, dismissed the U.S. announcement.
It stated that all investigations have concluded that Israel is guilty. It is unclear on which grounds the U.S. State Department wants to dismiss her death as "tragic circumstances" and not as a crime, for which those responsible should face accountability.
Abu Akleh's family released a statement claiming that the U.S. announcement was an "insulting to Shireen’s memory."
They stated that all evidence indicates that an American citizen was subject to extrajudicial killing by a foreign country that receives billions in American military aid every year to sustain a long-standing and entrenched occupation of millions of Palestinians.
Abu Akleh was 51 years old and was an on-air correspondent at Al Jazeera's Arabic language service. She rose to prominence during the second Palestinian intifada (or uprising against Israeli rule) two decades ago. For viewers around the Arab world, she documented the harsh realities of daily life under Israeli military control -- which is now well into its sixth century with no end in sight.
The beating of mourners and pallbearers by Israeli police at the funeral for her in Jerusalem on May 14 drew wide criticism from all corners of the globe. A newspaper in Israel reported last month that an investigation by police found wrongdoing but did not report on the consequences for those who managed the event.
Jenin has been a stronghold for Palestinian militants. Young men from the area have carried out several deadly attacks in Israel. Israel regularly carries out military raids on Jenin. It claims that these are intended to arrest militants and prevent more attacks.
Nearly 500,000 Israelis now live in settlements built by Israel, which was occupied the West Bank during the 1967 Mideast War. The Palestinians want this territory to be the main part of any future state.
The peace talks fell apart more than a decade back, and Israel is currently in an election campaign, it is unlikely that they will resume anytime soon. Lapid, the interim prime minister, supports a bilateral solution with Palestinians. However, right-wing parties opposing Palestinian statehood dominate Israel's political system.
Krauss reported from Ottawa (Ontario). This report was contributed by Ilan Ben Zion, an Associated Press reporter from Jerusalem.