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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - GENEVA — The UN says information shows Israeli gunfire killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and wounded her colleague last month, despite Israel's claim that it is unclear which side killed her.
Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian American, was killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was shot in the head while wearing a helmet and vest marking her as press.
“All information we have gathered ... is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians,” UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva on Friday.
"We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists," Shamdasani said.
The UN office reached its conclusion after gathering information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general. Its staff also visited the scene where Abu Akleh was shot, spoke to witnesses and experts, and analyzed video and other records.
At first, Israel's military and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Abu Akleh was likely killed by armed Palestinians firing indiscriminately — a narrative that was quickly questioned by witnesses and by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitor.
After its initial statements, Israel acknowledged that it is possible one of its soldiers fired the shots, and it has been investigating the killing. But Israel has also dismissed the findings of outside investigations that laid the blame on its military, saying they were biased.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the UN inquiry into Shireen Abu Akleh's death "unfounded."
On the day she died, Abu Akleh was in a group of seven journalists that came to the Jenin refugee camp's western entrance shortly after 6 a.m. local time, according to the UN report.
The journalists approached via a side street, saying later that the route avoided armed Palestinians and would also "make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street," the UN report states.
Israel has called on Palestinians to conduct a joint investigation into the shooting. But Abu Akleh's family says that would be like relying on a suspect to investigate their own case, and they want the US to investigate.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price has dismissed the idea of a US investigation, saying Israel has the "wherewithal" to conduct an investigation that "culminates in accountability."
Abu Akleh’s killing led to outrage from Palestinians and around the world, with thousands attending her funeral in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli police attacked the pallbearers at the funeral, almost causing Abu Akleh’s coffin to fall to the ground.
Shamdasani said that the OHCHR’s investigation had shown that Abu Akleh and her fellow journalists had made a concerted effort to be visible as members of the press to Israeli soldiers positioned further down the street.
“The journalists said they chose a side street for their approach to avoid the location of armed Palestinians inside the camp and that they proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street,” Shamdasani said. “Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.
“Several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them [the journalists] from the direction of the Israeli security forces.”
Shamdasani added that bullets continued to be fired at an unarmed man who tried to come to Abu Akleh’s aid, as well as a journalist who was sheltering behind a tree.
She added that the information the OHCHR had gathered had revealed no “activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists”.
The OHCHR head Michelle Bachelet continued to urge Israeli authorities to open a criminal investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing, according to Shamdasani.
In a statement responding to Shamdasani’s briefing, the IDF insisted there had been an exchange of fire between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen.
“Ever since the incident, the IDF has been investigating and reviewing the circumstances of Ms Abu Akleh’s death,” the statement said.
“The IDF investigation clearly concludes that Ms Abu Akleh was not intentionally shot by an IDF soldier and that it is not possible to determine whether she was killed by a Palestinian gunman shooting indiscriminately in her area or inadvertently by an IDF soldier.”
Al Jazeera Media Network announced on May 26 that it had assigned a legal team to refer the killing to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.
Lawyers working on a case filed to the ICC over the targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces have also said they will add Abu Akleh’s killing to the case. — Agencies
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