WEST BANK: A veteran Palestinian American journalist was shot dead Wednesday morning while covering raids in the occupied West Bank for Al Jazeera, with the broadcaster and another reporter who was wounded in the incident blaming Israeli forces.
The death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known reporter for the broadcast network’s Arabic language channel, sparked immediate outrage in the region and beyond. Israel initially suggested she may have been killed by Palestinian gunmen in clashes during the raid, though it later appeared to step back from that claim. Al Jazeera, Palestinian officials and the reporter who was wounded in the incident all said she was shot dead by Israeli security forces.
Al Jazeera said that Abu Akleh, 51, was wearing a vest identifying her as a member of the press when she was killed. The broadcaster accused Israeli forces of the shooting, saying the journalist was "assassinated in cold blood."
"We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice," the Qatar-based network said in a statement. Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem and studied journalism at Yarmouk University in Jordan, though she initially studied architecture, according to an obituary published by Al Jazeera. She is survived by a brother, Tony.
Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh also blamed Israeli forces for the journalist’s death. “Shireen Abu Akleh contributed to forming the memory of an entire generation & telling the Palestinian story to the world,” he said in a tweet. “Shireen was killed by the Israeli occupation while documenting their horrific crimes against our people. My sincere condolences to her family and colleagues.”
The Israeli military said early Wednesday that its forces came under attack and returned fire while conducting "counterterrorism activity to apprehend terrorist suspects in the Jenin Refugee Camp.” It said it was investigating “and looking into the possibility that journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”
Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks amid a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, many of them carried out by Palestinians from in and around Jenin.
In a statement published on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that "it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist."
His office said Israel offered Palestinians a "joint pathological analysis and investigation, which would be based on all of the existing documentation and findings, in order to get to the truth." It said that so far, that offer had been refused.
NBC News has contacted the Palestinian Authority for comment. However, Israeli army chief Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi later stepped back from the claim that Palestinian gunfire appeared to have killed Abu Akleh, saying that "at this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.”
Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, who was taken to the hospital after being shot in the back, was stable. The United Nations, US, UK and EU called for a thorough investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
"I strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera’s reporter, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot with live fire this morning while covering an Israeli security forces’ operation in Jenin, in occupied West Bank,” UN Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland said on Twitter.
“I call for an immediate and thorough investigation and for those responsible to be held accountable. Media workers should never be targeted,” he added. US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides also called for investigating the reporter’s death. “Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh of Al Jazeera,” Nides tweeted. “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.”
A similar call for investigation was echoed by the US Palestinian Affairs Unit. “Our deepest condolences on the death of Al Jazeera journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was well-known to us and all Palestinians,” the unit said in a tweet. “We encourage a thorough investigation into her death and the injury of fellow journalist, Ali Al-Samoudi,” it added.
Neil Wigan, the UK’s ambassador to Israel, said he was “deeply saddened” by Abu Akleh’s death and called for a “rapid, thorough and transparent investigation.” “Journalists must be allowed to work safely and freely,” he said on Twitter.
The EU delegation to the Palestinians said it was “shocked by the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was reporting on ISF incursions in Jenin.” “We express our deepest condolences to her family and call for a swift and independent investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice,” the delegation tweeted.
In a tweet, Luis Miguel Bueno, EU Arabic spokesperson for the Middle East and North Africa, also demanded a “prompt and independent” probe. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned Israel for shooting dead Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh. PM Shehbaz Sharif called out the “assassination” in a message posted on Twitter. “Silencing voices of those who tell stories of oppressed people is part of a deliberate strategy employed by Israel,” he said.
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