Al Jazeera has accused Israel of deliberately killing one of its reporters during a firefight between Israeli security forces and Palestinian gunmen in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a Palestinian American and one of the Arab world’s most well-known reporters, who had covered the conflict for decades, was shot in the head on Wednesday morning and taken to hospital in critical condition. She had been covering a military raid in a northern town and nearby refugee camp, a stronghold of the Palestinian Fatah movement and historical flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and body armour clearly marked as “press”. The Qatar-based television network said her colleagues at the scene said the veteran reporter was shot by Israeli forces.
In a statement, Al Jazeera called on the international community to hold Israeli forces accountable for their “intentional targeting and killing” of Abu Akleh. “In a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms, the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine,” it said.
Shatha Hanaysha, a journalist for Quds News Network, who witnessed the incident, said: “I could have been directly shot too. Even after she fell to the ground the fire did not stop and none of us were able to reach her. A guy was finally able to reach us; he helped me and started pulling her.
“We were a group wearing press gear, and Shireen was even wearing the helmet. So it is obvious that the one who shot her meant to hit an exposed part of her body. This is an assassination.”
An Israeli military statement said its troops had shot back after coming under “massive fire” in Jenin and that “there is a possibility, now being looked into, that reporters were hit – possibly by shots fired by Palestinian gunmen”.
People in the Jenin camp “also hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers, endangering their lives. The soldiers responded with fire,” the Israeli foreign ministry said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed there was “a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.
Tom Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, called for a thorough investigation.
The Palestinian health ministry confirmed Abu Akleh’s death and said a second reporter, the Al Jazeera producer Ali Samodi, was wounded.
“We were there to cover the events in Jenin camp. All of a sudden [the Israelis] opened fire at us, they didn’t ask us to leave or stop. The first bullet hit me, the second one hit Shireen … There were no resistance fighters around us. If there were, we wouldn’t have been in that area,” Samodi told the New Palestinian from hospital.
In comments to Agence France-Presse, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) firmly denied they had deliberately targeted journalists. The Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, said on Twitter 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.”
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said he held the Israeli military fully responsible for her death.
Violence has surged in Jenin in recent weeks: Israeli security forces have stepped up operations in the area after a spate of deadly terrorist attacks targeting Israelis that have left 19 people dead, launching near-daily raids on the hunt for terrorism suspects. Several of the attackers came from the Jenin area.
Three Arab-Israelis and 28 Palestinians have died, among them Abu Akleh, an unarmed woman and two apparent bystanders, as well as the perpetrators of attacks and Palestinian gunmen fighting with Israeli forces during the raids.
Accompanying clashes at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims at the heart of the conflict, have also raised fears of escalation between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has refrained from claiming responsibility for most of the terror attacks against Israelis, but in speeches leaders have praised the violence and called on Palestinians to carry out more, leading Israel to warn of retaliatory measures.
Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day-war last May, in part triggered by unrest at al Aqsa, in which 256 Gazans and 14 people in Israel died. Last year’s fighting was the third round of full-scale conflict between the Israeli state and the Palestinian militant group since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 and Israel and Egypt imposed a punishing blockade.
In April, UK-based lawyers with the International Federation of Journalists filed submissions to the international criminal court alleging a “systematic targeting of journalists” by Israeli forces.
At least 144 Palestinian journalists have been wounded by Israeli forces across the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2018, hurt by live fire and rubber bullets, as well as stun grenades, teargas and beatings with batons, according to Reporters Without Borders.
The Palestinian film-maker Yaser Murtaja was the last journalist to be killed covering the conflict, shot by Israeli snipers during the bloody protests on the Gaza Strip frontier in 2018.
Abu Akleh was well known across the Arab world from the 1980s onwards for her reporting during the first and second intifadas, or uprisings, against the Israeli occupation and Israeli-Palestinian affairs since. She had worked for Al Jazeera since 1997.
“Shireen was a brave, kind, and high-integrity journalist that I and millions of Palestinians grew up watching,” the prominent Ramallah-based activist Fadi Quran said in a tweet, calling her death “a devastating tragedy”.
During last year’s war in Gaza, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building housing the local offices of The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was hurt in the strike. Israel said Hamas was using the building as a command centre but has provided no evidence.
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( Information from theguardian.com was used in this report. To Read More, click here )