Palestinians Mourn Al Jazeera Reporter, Blame Israel

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — Thousands of people gathered Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah to mourn a murdered Al Jazeera journalist, as the Palestinian Authority leader accused Israel of killing her and rejected Israeli calls for a joint investigation.

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter who covered the Middle East conflict for more than 25 years, was shot dead Wednesday during an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. Journalists who were with her, including one who was shot, said Israeli forces had shot at them even though they were clearly identified as reporters.

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Israel said it was investigating the incident. At first he suggested that the reporter could have been killed by Palestinian militiamen, without providing evidence, but later she has retracted. Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas angrily rejected that proposal, stating that “we hold the Israeli occupying authorities fully responsible for killing her.”

“They cannot hide from the truth with this crime,” Abbas said during a wake in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is based. A Palestinian flag covered the body of Abu Akleh.

“They are the ones who committed the crime, and since we do not trust them, we will immediately go to the International Criminal Court,” Abás said. The ICC opened an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes more than a year ago.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, Abbas’ senior adviser, said the Palestinians would conduct their own independent investigation and share the results “with great transparency.”

Abu Akleh was shot to death while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin, which in recent weeks has emerged as a militant stronghold coinciding with several deadly Palestinian attacks and Israeli military raids in the occupied West Bank.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately killing the journalist and vowed to take legal action. Reporters who were with her said there were no Palestinian militants in the area.

Israeli officials initially said that Abu Akleh may have been the victim of militia fire and released a video showing men shooting at Israeli forces in a narrow alley in the Jenin refugee camp. Authorities backed down after an Israeli human rights group released another video showing the shooting site was hundreds of meters from where Abu Akleh was killed.

His death sparked an outpouring of condolences in the West Bank. The 51-year-old reporter was well known for her coverage on Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel of the harsh reality of Israel’s military occupation of Palestinians, which began 55 years ago with no end in sight. She also had US citizenship.

His burial was scheduled for Friday in Jerusalem, his hometown.

The murder was condemned around the world. The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterres, has called for an “independent and transparent investigation” to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz promised such an investigation on Wednesday, saying he was in contact with US and Palestinian officials and hoped for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We are trying to determine what exactly happened,” he said. “I have no definitive conclusions.”

Rights groups say Israel rarely moves forward with investigations into deadly encounters with Palestinians, and when it does, it often imposes lenient sanctions.

Abu Akleh’s death could spark new scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is under scrutiny in an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation. It also threatens to further strain difficult relations between the military and the international media.

The incident came amid a wave of violence between Israelis and Palestinians fueled by tensions at a major Jerusalem place of worship.

In recent weeks, at least 18 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks. More than 30 Palestinians have also been killed, most of them involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces. A few appeared to be unarmed or bystanders, fueling criticism that Israel is using excessive force in its campaign against the militants.

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