Israel will examine the bullet that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh “in the presence of the Americans,” Israeli army spokesperson Ran Kochav said on Sunday, disputing Palestinian claims that US experts would carry out the forensic analysis.
“The professional Israeli examination will take place in the presence of the Americans. If there is a match between the shell and the weapons of Israeli soldiers, we will inform the public,” Kochav told Radio 103FM.
Experts say ballistic analysis could shed definitive light on Abu Akleh’s death. The veteran Palestinian-American correspondent, 51, was killed under disputed circumstances in Jenin as she covered an Israeli army raid in mid-May alongside a team of other journalists.
The Palestinian Authority insisted for weeks that it would not hand over the bullet or conduct a joint investigation with Israel. But in an about-face, Ramallah transferred the bullet on Saturday night to the US embassy in Jerusalem for an American examination.
Abu Akleh’s death has been the subject of dueling probes by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. During the raid, a firefight broke out between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. At some point, Abu Akleh was shot in the head.
The PA’s investigation found that she had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.
Israel initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh could also have been killed by Israeli soldiers. Israeli authorities have even identified a gun that may have fired the fatal shot — but say they cannot definitively establish the matter without forensic analysis.
The round is currently in the custody of a senior US military official, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials. American ballistics experts would examine the shell, not Israel, said Palestinian Authority chief prosecutor Akram al-Khatib.
“The bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh will not be transferred to Israeli side,” al-Khatib said in a statement on Saturday night.
But Kochav appeared to dispute those claims on Sunday, telling Army Radio that an American general would observe the Israeli investigation as long as the bullet was in Israel.
“This is an Israeli examination, an Israeli investigation, with an American presence. The Palestinians who so kindly transferred the bullet did so in order for there to be an Israeli investigation with an American presence,” he said.
Israel had offered to conduct a joint investigation with Ramallah ever since Abu Akleh was shot. Israeli officials have said that ballistic analysis to match the gun with the bullet is necessary to determine whether an Israeli soldier fired the fatal round.
The PA has repeatedly rejected those offers, as has Abu Akleh’s family. Palestinian officials initially refused to share the round with the United States, either, saying that they would share the results of their own probe with interested parties.
The US had urged Ramallah to share the results of its investigation with Israel so as to shed potentially definitive light on the incident. In a public letter in early June, a bipartisan group of 25 US lawmakers urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure the PA to release the bullet.
“We urge you to ask the Palestinian Authority to provide access to the forensic evidence in Abu Akleh’s death for an independent investigation so that all parties can reach a definitive conclusion about the events leading to her death, and hold all parties accountable,” the lawmakers wrote.