A Palestinian forensic expert said “it is not possible” to answer whether an Al Jazeera journalist who was killed in the West Bank on Wednesday was shot by the Israeli military, as investigations are ongoing.
Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian-American reporter, died while covering Israeli military operations in Jenin.
Responding to a journalist who asked whether there is “solid evidence” that Abu Akleh was shot by the Israeli military, Dr. Rayyan Al-Ali of the Forensic Medicine Institute at An-Najah National University in Nablus, said, “It is not possible to give this information now, because the team as the forensic laboratory has to study the evidence to answer this question,” according to a translation shared by an Israeli diplomat.
The Palestinian Authority has nonetheless already blamed Israeli soldiers for Abu Akleh’s death, with the Palestinian Mission to the United Nations claiming that “Israeli occupying forces murdered in cold blood a veteran Palestinian journalist,” and calling her death an “assassination.” PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh likewise asserted that Abu Akleh “was killed by the Israeli occupation.”
Israeli officials have cast doubt on that account, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz saying earlier Wednesday that preliminary findings from the IDF’s investigation, which is ongoing, “indicate that no gunfire was directed at the journalist.”
“Findings at this time indicate that there is a reasonable chance that the journalist was shot by Palestinian armed terrorists,” added the minister. “We have seen footage of indiscriminate shooting by Palestinian terrorists, which is likely to have hit the journalist.”
A video clip of Palestinian forces opening fire in Jenin on Wednesday was shared online by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Responding to the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said, “at this stage it is not possible to determine what gunfire hit” Abu Akleh, and expressed regret over her death.
While Israel has offered to conduct a joint investigation into the incident with Palestinian authorities, these overtures have been rebuffed, according to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. Nonetheless, after the autopsy performed on Abu Akleh by the Palestinians did not yield a definitive answer on the culpability for her death, there have been advanced contacts for cooperation between the PA and Israel, Israel’s Channel 13 reported, citing an unnamed security source.
The source, which said an IDF investigation into the angle of the shooting did not rule out the possibility that she died from either its own or Palestinian gunfire, added that Israel wants to carry out a forensic review of the bullet that was pulled from Abu Akleh’s body. It offered to have PA and American representatives present during the exam, the source said.
In a briefing later on Wednesday, Gantz emphasized that the direct cause of death was still uncertain, and called for Palestinian authorities to cooperate on an investigation into the incident.