A top Israeli official has confirmed the existence of a US investigation into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh but said Israel’s government would not cooperate with the American probe, calling it a “mistake.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz revealed details of the previously unknown investigation by the Justice Department into the death of the Al Jazeera correspondent, who was shot dead during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin in May.
“I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by [Israeli] soldiers, that we will not cooperate with an external investigation, and will not enable intervention to internal investigations,” Gantz tweeted on Monday.
A CNN investigation published two weeks after Abu Akleh was killed suggested the fatal shot likely came from a position where Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troops are known to have been, and the pattern of gunfire suggests the bullets were aimed rather than sprayed indiscriminately, because of the tight grouping of the rounds, according to a firearms expert who evaluated video footage for CNN.
The IDF admitted in September there was a “high possibility” one of its troops had shot the journalist, but said it was impossible to be certain. The IDF’s Military Advocate General said it would not press charges against any soldiers and that there was “no suspicion that a bullet was fired deliberately at anyone identified as a civilian and in particular at anyone identified as a journalist.”
Abu Akleh was wearing a protective vest labeled “Press” on the front and back, at the time of her death. While an IDF official previously said Israeli soldiers believed Palestinian militants were firing at them, CNN’s investigation found that there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death.
Gantz said Monday that the IDF had conducted a “professional and independent” investigation and shared the details with American officials. He added on Twitter: “The decision taken by the US Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the tragic passing of Shireen Abu Akleh is a mistake.”
Israeli media had previously reported that US officials informed their Israeli counterparts they may be requesting materials related to the journalist’s death.
The US Justice Department and US State Department declined to comment Monday on the American probe, but the latter said “our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss. Not only was Shireen an American citizen, she was a fearless reporter whose journalism and pursuit of truth earned her the respect of audiences around the world.”
A US State Department-led forensic examination in July of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was inconclusive but found it most likely that she was killed by unintentional Israeli fire.
Abu Akleh’s family has long called for the FBI to investigate her death – something the department regularly does for Americans killed overseas.
In a statement, her family said they are “encouraged” by news of the US investigation. “We hope that the United States will use all of the investigative tools at its disposal to get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable,” the Abu Akleh family said.
“We call on all parties with any evidence to respond to investigatory requests from the US … and not stand in the way of justice.”