A veteran Palestinian-American journalist was shot dead amid clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday morning, with Israel and Palestinians trading accusations of responsibility.
Al-Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, was shot in the head while covering the Israeli army operation in the city, which has seen high tensions in recent days. In footage from the scene after she was shot, Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a press vest and helmet.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry and Palestinian witnesses, including other journalists, charged that Israeli troops raiding the city fired the gunshots that killed Abu Akleh.
The Israeli government, however, said that armed Palestinians likely mistakenly shot and killed her.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz told the Knesset that initial findings showed no IDF fire directed at Abu Akleh, whereas “we have seen footage of indiscriminate shooting by Palestinian terrorists, which is likely to have hit the journalist.”
Palestinian health officials also reported that journalist Ali Samoudi — who works for the Al-Quds newspaper — was shot in the back. He was said to be in stable condition.
According to the Israeli military, troops entered Jenin’s flashpoint refugee camp and the nearby town of Burqin to arrest terror suspects. After a wave of terror attacks in Israeli cities since March, some of which were carried out by Palestinians from the Jenin area, soldiers have stepped up their raids in the West Bank in an effort to tamp down the violence.
“During the operation in Jenin refugee camp, suspects fired an enormous amount of gunfire at troops and hurled explosive devices. [Israeli] forces fired back” the army said in a statement.
“Hits were identified,” the military added, although there were no reports of Palestinian casualties beyond the two journalists.
The army said it was “looking into the possibility that journalists were injured, potentially by Palestinian gunfire.” In video from the scene, Palestinian gunmen can be seen firing off rounds; at one point, one Palestinian says that an Israeli soldier was hit by gunfire.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the government backed the soldiers’ actions.
“According to the information in our hands right now, there is a good chance that armed Palestinians, firing wildly, brought about the tragic death of the journalist,” Bennett said in a statement.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called Abu Akleh’s death an “execution” and “an ugly crime.” The Hamas terror group accused Israel of “deliberately assassinating” her.
Israeli officials rejected that claim, repeating that Palestinian terrorists were likely responsible for the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.
“But even if soldiers shot at — or, God forbid, hurt — someone who was not involved, this happened in battle, during a firefight, where this Palestinian is with the shooters. So this thing can happen,” Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav told Army Radio.
Kochav described Abu Akleh as “filming and working for a media outlet amidst armed Palestinians. They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so.”
In footage seen by The Times of Israel, the journalists can be seen more or less on their own, with no armed Palestinians nearby. According to witnesses, Abu Akleh’s team was outside the refuge camp, well away from the scenes of the clashes.
A few moments later, bursts of gunfire ring out. A man yells out “injured! oh man, Shireen! Shireen! Ambulance! Ambulance!” Abu Akleh can be seen face down on the ground, apparently shot, according to the footage.
Palestinian health officials and witnesses rejected the possibility that Abu Akleh was killed by errant Palestinian gunfire.
“The assessment is that she was killed by Israeli gunfire, and witnesses at the scene attest to this as well,” a Palestinian health official said in a phone call.
Samoudi, who was wounded and who was working as her producer, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early Wednesday. He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would see them and know that they were there.
He said the first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no armed Palestinians or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army.
Samoudi said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by armed Palestinians was a “complete lie.”
Two of the other Palestinian witnesses — Shatha Hanaysheh and Mujahid al-Sa’adi — also squarely blamed Israeli snipers for the shooting. Hanaysheh acknowledged that she had not seen who fired the shot, but said that other Palestinians with her said that the building near them was full of Israeli soldiers.
“I could just as easily have been shot. Even after Shireen was shot, they kept on shooting. [Jenin residents] couldn’t reach Shireen to help her,” said Hanaysheh.
‘The heart breaks’
Abu Akleh, 51, was born in Jerusalem. Carrying both a Jerusalem residency card and an American passport, she began working for Al Jazeera in 1997 and regularly reported on-camera from across Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.
“I chose to become a journalist to be close to people. It may not be easy to change reality, but I was at least able to bring their voice to the world,” Abu Akleh said in a video taped for the Qatari channel’s 25th anniversary.
Her position as an Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent in Jerusalem made her a familiar face for tens of millions of viewers around the Arab world.
“Shireen Abu Akleh — a wonderful human being, a remarkable journalist, a dear longtime friend — was shot & murdered by the Israeli occupation army. The heart breaks. Palestine grieves. Rest in peace & power & love,” Hanan Ashrawi, a former senior Palestinian politician, wrote on Twitter.
Colleagues and friends mourned Abu Akleh as a courageous journalist who had covered Israel and the Palestinians for decades, sometimes braving extreme personal danger.
“Never did I imagine I would be reading headlines about Shireen dying. She covered both Intifadas; to me, she was invincible, everlasting, a beautiful person that will outlast all of us,” Palestinian journalist Dalia Hatuqa tweeted.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel had offered the Palestinians a joint pathological investigation into “the sad death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”
“Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,” Lapid said in a statement.
In the vast majority of cases, the deaths of Palestinians at the hands of soldiers are investigated by the army. Human rights groups have slammed the Israeli military justice system, which rarely charges soldiers for Palestinian shooting deaths.
Israeli officials accused Ramallah of refusing the request, with Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar pronouncing that the PA “refused because they have no interest in uncovering the truth.”
Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh denied Israel had ever reached out to them about conducting an investigation.
“We deny what the Prime Minister of the occupation government said about sending a missive to the Palestinian Authority about conducting an investigation into her assassination,” al-Sheikh tweeted.
He vowed to take Abu Akleh’s case to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, which is currently investigating war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza.
Qatar, which funds Al-Jazeera, slammed Abu Akleh’s killing. “This state sponsored Israeli terrorism must STOP, unconditional support to Israel must END,” tweeted Qatari Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Lolwah Alkhater.
Al-Jazeera accused Israeli soldiers of “deliberately targeting and killing” Abu Akleh “in cold blood.”
“We call on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable,” the Qatar-based broadcaster said.
Israeli soldiers carry out a raid on a house in the town of Rummanah, near the flashpoint town of Jenin in the West Bank on May 8, 2022, at the home of a Palestinian terrorist accused of carrying out a fatal axe attack in the central city of Elad two days earlier. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)
Israelis are critical of Al-Jazeera’s pro-Palestinian slant, but the government has largely allowed its correspondents to work unhindered.
Palestinian journalists regularly charge that Israeli forces target them during clashes between Israeli forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Last June, Israeli police detained Al-Jazeera correspondent Guevara Budeiri as she covered a protest in Sheikh Jarrah, sparking controversy. Budeiri’s hand was broken during the incident, according to Al-Jazeera.
And in February, Agence-France-Presse stringer Jaafar Ishtayeh was shot by Border Police with a rubber bullet as he covered violent protests in Beita, near Nablus, according to the Foreign Press Association.
Tensions have rocked the West Bank recent weeks. Palestinian terrorists, many from the Jenin area, have crossed the fence into Israel to commit terror attacks, part of a bloody terror wave that has left 19 dead since late March.
Israeli forces have responded by cracking down in Jenin, stepping up raids and arrests in an attempt to restore order. The security operations often led to armed clashes with local Palestinians.
According to the PA Health Ministry, 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops since late March. Some committed violent terror attacks, while others participated in clashes with soldiers. Still others — such as a near-blind Palestinian woman near Bethlehem — appeared to have been unarmed bystanders. PJC
Agencies contributed to this report.