The United Nations said Friday it found that Israeli forces fired the shot that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, with Israel swiftly branding the UN’s findings unfounded.
The Palestinian-American TV reporter, who was wearing a vest marked “Press” and a helmet, was killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli army operation in Jenin camp in the northern West Bank.
“We find that the shots that killed Abu Akleh came from Israeli security forces,” UN Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.
“It is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation.”
She said the Human Rights Office had concluded its own independent monitoring into the incident.
“All information we have gathered… is consistent with the finding that 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,” she said.
“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists.”
– ‘Seemingly well-aimed bullets’ –
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 probe included information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general.
The UN rights office found that seven journalists arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin camp soon after 6:00 am.
At around 6:30 am, 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.
“One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder; another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.”
Several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach Abu Akleh’s body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree, said Shamdasani.
Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body, she added.
– Israel demands bullet –
In response, Israel’s army said it was “not possible” to determine how Abu Akleh was killed.
“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) 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… or inadvertently by an IDF soldier,” the military said.
Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz said IDF troops “came under heavy gunfire during the events that led to Shireen’s death, and responded accordingly”.
“We may only uncover the truth by conducting a thorough ballistic, forensic investigation and not through unfounded investigations,” he added.
The official Palestinian investigation found that the Qatari television channel’s star reporter was killed after being hit by a bullet just below her helmet.
Their report said Abu Akleh was killed with a 5.56 millimetre armour piercing round fired from a Ruger Mini-14 rifle.
Israel’s mission in Geneva said the UN finding “deplorably fails to mention the main obstacle to establishing the truth in this tragic incident: the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to conduct a joint investigation and hand over the bullet”.
“Without this evidence, it is not possible for any ‘independent monitoring’ to legitimately conclude” how Abu Akleh was killed, it said.
The mission added that in the weeks before the shooting, 11 “innocent people… were killed by terrorists who came from Jenin”, leading to the IDF operation.
– Criminal investigation call –
Her niece Lina Abu Akleh asked on Twitter: “So what’s going to happen now? How many more reports do we need for them to be held accountable?”
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged Israel to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing and into all other killings by Israeli forces in the West Bank and in the context of law enforcement operations in Gaza.
“Since just the beginning of the year, our office has verified that Israeli security forces have killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children,” said Shamdasani.
“International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury. Perpetrators must be held to account.”