The Palestinian Authority on Thursday rejected an Israeli request to hold a joint investigation into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, saying it would not hand over the bullet that killed her for ballistic analysis.
Hussein Al Sheikh, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said that the Palestinians would conduct their own independent probe and that all parties would be informed of "the results of the investigation with high transparency.”
Abu Akleh, a veteran Al Jazeera journalist, was shot and killed on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank. The broadcaster and two reporters who were with her blamed Israeli forces.
Israeli officials initially suggested that Abu Akleh may have been killed by militant fire, but walked that back somewhat later in the day, saying there were no “final conclusions.”
Her death was met by an outpouring of grief across the West Bank. Her body was to be taken to the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on Thursday before being brought to Jerusalem for burial on Friday.
The killing sparked condemnations from around the globe. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has called for “an independent and transparent investigation” to ensure those responsible are held to account.
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Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, on Wednesday promised such an inquiry, saying he was in touch with U.S. and Palestinian officials and hoped for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We are trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he said. “I don’t have final conclusions.”
Abu Akleh’s death could draw new scrutiny of Israel’s military justice system, which is being examined as part of a war crimes probe conducted by the International Criminal Court. It also threatened to further strain often rocky relations between the army and the international media.
Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for her coverage on Al Jazeera Arabic of the harsh realities of Israel’s open-ended military occupation of the Palestinians, now in its 55th year. She was widely recognized in the West Bank and was also a U.S. citizen.
Her name trended across Twitter in Arabic on Wednesday, setting social media alight with support for the Palestinians. Her image was projected over the main square in the West Bank city of Ramallah as mourners flooded the Al Jazeera offices there and her family home in east Jerusalem.
Abu Akleh's coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s military occupation was inextricably linked with her own experiences as a Palestinian journalist on the front lines. Her death underscores the heavy price the conflict continues to exact on Palestinians, whether they are journalists or not.
Although she was also a U.S. citizen who often visited America in the summers, she lived and worked in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, where those who knew her said she felt most at home. A Palestinian Christian whose family was originally from Bethlehem, she was born and raised in Jerusalem. She leaves behind a brother.
In an Al Jazeera video released last year, Abu Akleh recalled the scale of destruction and “the feeling that death was at times just around the corner” during her coverage of the second intifada, from 2000-2005. “Despite the dangers, we were determined to do the job," she said.
“I chose journalism so I could be close to the people,” she added. "It might not be easy to change the reality, but at least I was able to communicate their voice to the world.”
Abu Akleh joined Al Jazeera in 1997, just a year after the groundbreaking Arabic news network launched. Among her many assignments were covering five wars in Gaza and Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. She reported on forced home evictions, the killings of Palestinian youth, the hundreds of Palestinians held without charge in Israeli prisons and the continuous expansion of Jewish settlements.
Her longtime producer, Wessam Hammad, said Abu Akleh possessed an incredible ability to remain calm under pressure.
“Shireen worked all these years with a commitment to the values and ethics of our profession,” he said of Abu Akleh, who the network called “the face of Al Jazeera in Palestine.”
Her death comes amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has been fueled by tensions at a key Jerusalem holy site. At least 18 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks in recent weeks, while more than 30 Palestinians, most of them involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces, have been killed. A few others have appeared to have been unarmed or passersby, sparking criticism that Israel has used excessive force in its crackdown on militants.