Ahmad Gharabli / AFP via Getty Images
Veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while reporting on an Israeli army raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for Al Jazeera, the TV network reported on Wednesday. Al Jazeera says an Israeli force killed Abu Akleh; Israel’s government says it believes she may have been hit by Palestinian gunfire.
Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old US citizen, had been covering a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp “when she was shot in the face by a single bullet, despite wearing a press vest,” Al Jazeera said. It said the TV correspondent had been “assassinated in cold blood” after she was targeted by Israeli forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement Saying, “According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were firing indiscriminately at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.”
Witnesses blame Israel’s soldiers for the journalist’s death
Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi was also shot while covering the raid. From his hospital bed, he told NPR that the TV network’s team had arrived where Israeli soldiers were surrounding a Palestinian home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
They walked past soldiers who allowed them to proceed, he said. The journalists were carrying camera equipment and wearing blue vests clearly marked with the word “PRESS.”
After they passed, he said, three shots rang out.
Samoudi said the second shot him in the back, and the third hit Abu Akleh in the head.
The producer disagreed with Israel’s assessment that Palestinian militants were likely responsible.
“There were no resistance fighters around us,” Samoudi said, according to a translation by Middle East Eye. “When there are Palestinian fighters shooting, we don’t go.”
Another witness, Palestinian journalist Shatha Hanaysha, said journalists had been cornered when Abu Akleh was shot. Her colleague’s death was an assassination, she said.
“We stood together in a collective way as journalists, then we started moving. We were shocked by the live ammunition fired at us,” she told Al Jazeera. “We reached an area that did not allow us to withdraw.”
The gunfire came from snipers, she said.
“The one that killed Shireen was intended to kill her because he shot the bullet at an area of her body that was not protected,” Hanaysha added.
Israel’s military says it believes Palestinian gunfire killed Abu Akleh
Israel’s military said it was “investigating the incident and looking into the possibility that journalists were hit by the Palestinian militants.”
The Israel Defense Forces said the raid was mounted “to apprehend terrorist suspects” in the Jenin camp. It acknowledges that its soldiers opened fire, but said it only happened after “tens of Palestinian gunmen fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers.”
When the soldiers opened fire, it said, they shot “toward the gunmen and hits were identified.”
Abu Akleh’s killing is widely condemned
The Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian territories says it is “appalled and deeply shocked” by the killing of Abu Akleh. It also said the investigation into her death should be immediate and transparent.
“Her death is a tremendous loss for journalism, and the FPA offers its deepest condolences to Al Jazeera and her family,” the association said. (Editor’s note: NPR is a member of the organization.)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides encouraged a “thorough investigation into the circumstances” of the journalist’s death.