An Al Jazeera reporter was shot dead during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, with Palestinians and the news channel accusing Israel of killing her and Israel’s leader saying she was likely hit by Palestinian fire.
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a Palestinian-American, was wearing a press vest that clearly marked her as a journalist while reporting in the city of Jenin, the Qatar-based outlet said.
She was covering the latest arrest operation launched by the Israeli military amid deadly Arab attacks in Israel. The death of a prominent, veteran reporter for the popular news channel seemed likely to add more fuel to a surging conflict.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Al Jazeera described Abu Akleh’s death as blatant, cold-blooded murder by the Israeli military, which said dozens of Palestinian gunmen had confronted troops who arrested a Hamas militant in Jenin.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Abbas was making unfounded allegations, before Israel conducted a “thorough investigation” of the events.
“It appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were firing indiscriminately at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” Bennett said in a statement.
On Twitter, Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote: “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of (Abu Akleh’s) death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.”
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said “our findings will be relayed, with transparency … to our American friends and also to the Palestinian Authority and others in the world with whom we are in contact”.
Ali Samoodi, a Palestinian journalist wounded alongside Abu Akleh, said Israeli forces “suddenly opened fire” at them during the Jenin operation. He disputed an Israeli military account that gunmen were nearby when she was shot.
Since March, Palestinians and members of Israel’s Arab minority have killed 18 people, including three police officers and a security guard, in attacks in Israel and the West Bank that have mostly targeted civilians.
Some of the assailants have come from Jenin. The city has been a main target of Israeli arrest raids in the West Bank that have often sparked clashes and brought the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces or armed civilians since the beginning of the year to at least 42.
The casualties include armed members of militant groups, lone assailants and bystanders.
Visits by Jewish pilgrims over the past weeks to Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest site and the most sacred place in Judaism, have stoked Palestinian anger.
Preliminary results of an autopsy ordered by the Palestinian Authority showed that Abu Akleh died of a bullet wound to the head, the director of the Palestinian Forensic Medicine Institute said in the West Bank city of Nablus.
He declined to give further information when asked whether the findings showed that Abu Akleh had been hit by an Israeli round.
Treated for his wounds in a hospital in Jenin, Samoodi told reporters: “They (Israeli soldiers) didn’t ask us to leave and they didn’t ask us to stop (filming). They fired at us. One bullet hit me and another hit Shireen. They killed her in cold blood.”
An Israeli military spokesman, briefing foreign journalists and describing Abu Akleh’s death as tragic, said Israeli troops would never deliberately target a non-combatant. He said there had been three direct exchanges of fire with Palestinian gunmen during the raid.