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Israel, Palestine trade blame over killing of Al-Jazeera journalist

Last Friday, Palestinian mourners gathered at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City, where a short funeral service was held for Shireen Abu Akleh, the…

Last Friday, Palestinian mourners gathered at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City, where a short funeral service was held for Shireen Abu Akleh, the slain journalist, before she was buried at a cemetery next to her mother’s grave.

Palestinian Christian and Muslim clerics and top government officials also converged and paid their respect to the late Al Jazeera correspondent.

Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was shot in the head early Wednesday while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. 

She had spent a quarter century covering the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule, which is well into its sixth decade, with no end in sight.

President Mahmoud Abbas bestowed her with the highest honour within his reach, “Star of Jerusalem,” also known as the “Quds Star,” an honour traditionally conferred on ministers, ambassadors and members of the parliament.

As she was buried, her family, friends, media colleagues, Palestinians and the international community insisted that those behind her death must be arrested and prosecuted.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian authorities have traded blames over whose bullet killed Abu Akleh, but eyewitnesses alleged that she was gunned down by an Israeli sniper.

A statement by Al Jazeera alleged that it was a clear case of assassination, and called on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible.

Israeli authorities had said Abu Akleh was likely killed by Palestinian gunmen, but its military chief later backed down from the earlier claim, saying it was not clear who fired the bullet that killed her. 

The Israeli army confirmed that it had conducted an operation early at the scene but denied that it had deliberately targeted journalists.

Israeli foreign minister, Yair Lapid, had said the country offered a joint investigation with Palestinians into the killing, but the Palestinian authority also rejected the offer.

“Let me ask: When does the criminal have the right to take part in the investigation against his victim?” the spokesman of the Palestinian authority, Ibrahim Milhim asked.

A video broadcast by Al-Jazeera showed sound of gunfire and yelling as the late Abu Akleh and her colleagues came under fire at the Jenin refugee camp.

The filmer moves closer, and Abu Akleh is seen lying motionless, face down, as a man and another journalist, identified by the network as Shatha Hanaysha, try to reach Ms Akleh but are forced back by gunfire.

In the footage, both women are wearing protective vests marked, “Press” and helmets.

Another Al-Jazeera journalist in the group, Ali Samoudi, was also shot in the back. From the hospital, he said they were clearly identified as journalists before the attack. “We were obvious,” he said.

Calls for a full, independent and transparent investigation into the killing are mounting by people around the world, with leaders demanding that those responsible be held to account; but how sincere are they?

How bullet pierced Abu Akleh’s neck – Colleague

In her account, the journalist who was with Abu Akleh when she was shot said they waited for the arrival of the Al-Jazeera crew before heading to the scene.

“Good morning,” Abu Akleh said, as she, myself, two more reporters and two cameramen got ready.

“I felt a strange aura around her at that moment. I can’t find the right word to describe what I felt. She was floating. She was happy. 

“We made ourselves visible to the soldiers who were stationed hundreds of metres away from us. We remained still for around 10 minutes to make sure they knew we were there as journalists. 

“Shireen Abu Akela was the journalist whose reports I grew up imitating, from voice tone to hand gestures, and I dreamt of doing what she was always so good at doing

“When no warning shots were fired at us, we moved uphill towards the camp. Out of nowhere, we heard the first gunshot.

“I turned around and saw my colleague, Ali al-Sammoudi, on the floor. A bullet hit him in the back, but his wound was not serious and he managed to move away from the fire. 

“My colleague, Mujahed, jumped over a small fence nearby to stay away from the bullets.

 “Come over here,” he told me and Shireen, but we were on the other side of the street and couldn’t risk crossing. 

“Al-Sammoudi is hit,” Shireen shouted, standing right behind me, as we both stood with our backs to a wall to take cover.” 

Right then, another bullet pierced Shireen’s neck and she fell to the ground, right next to me.” 

In the video, Shatha Hanaysha is seen next to the lifeless body of Shireen Abu Akleh.

 “I called her name but she didn’t move. When I tried to extend my arm to reach her, another bullet was fired, and I had to stay hiding behind a tree.

“That tree saved my life, as it was the only thing obstructing the soldiers’ view of me. 

“Stay back, stay back!” my colleagues shouted as bullets flew every time I tried to check Shireen’s pulse, he said. 

Out of nowhere, a camp resident managed to get to us with a car from an alleyway out of range from the Israeli soldiers. He quickly pulled me and Shireen’s body in and drove us to hospital

US State Dept ‘welcomes’ announced investigation by Israeli army

The US Department of State spokesman, Ned Price, while fielding questions from reporters in Washington DC on whether the US would support an international investigation said, “Israel has the wherewithal to conduct a thorough investigation.”

But Palestinian rights advocates in the United States called on the Biden administration to demand an independent probe, and that Israel should not be allowed to investigate itself.

Ahmad Abuznaid, the executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said calls for investigations were “empty gestures” if the probe is to be left for Israel.

“You can’t ask the Israelis to investigate themselves when they have been abusing human rights for over 70 years and expect them to arrive at a different result that they have been arriving at after all these decades,” he said.

It’s not crossfire, she was killed willfully – Expert

A security analyst, Mr Kabiru Adamu, observed that the footage of the incident that went viral showed the Al-Jazeera journalist wearing a press jacket clearly marked, but was shot. 

He said, “Irrespective of the circumstances, international law protects her because as a journalist she was not a party to the conflict. It seems to me from the footage that she was sheltered and only exposed to the line of sight and shot of the Israeli forces.  

“It is unfortunate that several reputable international media publications reported the incident as crossfire when it was obvious in the footage that she was killed willfully.

“It is important for justice to be done in this instance, including ensuring that her killer is identified and held accountable.

“Failure to do this means that extremists have another recruitment basis from the grievances that this issue will create and has created.

“Unfortunately, the trajectory tells me that she won’t get justice,” he said.

However, many analysts believe that not much would come out of it because “Israel is untouchable,” but the US is expected to do more than what the spokesman of the US Department of State said.

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