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Israel’s IDF kills Al Jazeera’s journalist

-washingtonpost.com

….Al Jazeera says Israeli forces killed Abu Akleh in cold blood

Al Jazeera said Wednesday that Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran journalist for the news network, was fatally shot by Israeli troops in the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin. (Al Jazeera/AFP/Getty Images)

JENIN, West Bank — Israeli forces killed a Palestinian American journalist for the Al Jazeera news network in the West Bank early Wednesday, according to the network and the Palestinian Health Ministry. Israel said the journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed in an exchange of gunfire and called for an investigation..

Abu Akleh, 51, a longtime Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot in the head while covering Israeli raids in the Jenin refugee camp, according to the network and the ministry. She was taken to a hospital before dying from her wounds.

In a statement, Al Jazeera accused Israeli forces of killing Abu Akleh “in cold blood” and said she had been “clearly wearing a press jacket that identifies her as a journalist.” Two journalists who were standing next to Abu Akleh said in interviews that the area had been relatively calm before she was shot.

“It was dead quiet,” one of the journalists, Ali al-Samudi, who was also injured by gunfire, said in an interview from his hospital bed.

In a statement, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the shooting occurred while the Israel Defense Forces were conducting counterterrorism operations in Jenin, after a spate of deadly attacks over the past few weeks in Israeli cities. During the operation, he said, “armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner.”

“Our forces from the IDF returned fire as accurately, carefully and responsibly as possible. Sadly, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in the exchange,” he said. “To uncover the truth, there must be a real investigation, and the Palestinians are currently preventing that. Without a serious investigation, we will not reach the truth.”

Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav, an IDF spokesperson, told Israel’s Army Radio that “all of the data indicate with a high degree of probability” that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire. “But I say that cautiously,” he added.

A senior Israeli official, in a statement sent to reporters, said that the army’s assessment was based on evidence that included video footage in which a gunman is heard saying in Arabic, “We hit a soldier, he’s on the ground.” The Israeli military said that no Israeli soldiers were injured during clashes in Jenin on Wednesday and that the Palestinians in the video may have been referring to Abu Akleh.

In a message posted on Twitter, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote: “We have offered the Palestinians a joint pathological investigation into the sad death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Journalists must be protected in conflict zones, and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that he “condemns the crime of the execution Shireen Abu Akleh” and holds Israel “fully responsible.”

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in a message posted on Twitter: “Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said “The United States encourages a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of her death.”

“We understand the Israel Defense Forces have already stated that they will be investigating this incident. As we have said numerous times, the United States supports press freedoms and the protection of journalists in carrying out their work,” she said.

Samudi, who works for the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper, said Wednesday that he and Abu Akleh had been standing several hundred meters from a house where Israeli soldiers were carrying out an arrest. His shoulder was wrapped in a bandage, and dark blood stains were visible on a bullet-resistent vest marked “PRESS” on the table beside him. He had been working with Abu Akleh on Wednesday as a producer, he said.

“The house was at the top of the camp; we were far below,” he said, referring to the Jenin refugee camp. They were alone with four or five other Palestinian journalists, all wearing protective gear marking them as as such. They had not yet set up to film, he said.

They were near Israeli military vehicles, he said, and they moved slowly to make sure the soldiers could identify them as reporters. There were no other Palestinian civilians or fighters in the area that he could see, he said.

Suddenly, a single shot rang out, Samudi said, close enough for him to hear the whiz of a bullet. He said he turned and ran and was immediately hit in the upper left back. He said he knew he had been hit, but he also remembers his colleague’s reaction.

“I heard Shireen scream, ‘Ali has been shot! Ali has been shot!’ ” he said. “Then they shot Shireen. She dropped dead immediately.“ He was adamant that the group was not caught in a crossfire between soldiers and militants, as the Israeli government has suggested.

“There were no fighters where we were, none at all,” he said. “We don’t put ourselves in the line of fire. Whatever the Israeli army says for us to do, we do. They shot at us directly and deliberately.”

Another journalist, Shatha Hanaysha, 29, said the group stood in an open area “for about 10 minutes to make sure the Israeli army can identify us as journalists.”

“We were told by people there were Israeli snipers on the roofs, but I didn’t see any,” she said. “It was very quiet. There was no danger in our area. There was no reason to retreat.”

She said there was no fire fight happening in the area — just the sudden individual shots. “At the shots, everyone ran toward a wall. But Shireen and I weren’t able to climb it,” she said. “Shireen was screaming ‘Ali is shot!’ Then she fell. I tried to help her up, but I couldn’t.”

“She was shot,” she said, pointing at her own neck.

Atah Abu-Rumeleh, a doctor in Jenin who said he witnessed the shooting, also said there had been no exchange of fire before the journalists were shot. “It was a clear day, and the sun was shining,” he said in a telephone interview. “A sniper from somewhere shot Shireen in the head. And Ali al-Samudi was also hit.”

Abu Akleh was among the most high-profile Palestinian journalists and a veteran of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She joined Al Jazeera in 1997 as one of the network’s first field correspondents. In the over two decades since, her voice, face and reportage became a mainstay for Palestinian audiences.

“Shireen was a brave, kind, & high-integrity journalist that I and millions of Palestinians grew up watching,” tweeted Ramallah-based Palestinian activist Fadi Quran. “A devastating tragedy.”

Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom, called Abu Akleh the “most prominent Palestinian journalist and a close friend.”

“Now we will hear the ‘concerns’ of the UK govt & the international community,” he wrote on Twitter.

Rubin reported from Tel Aviv. Miriam Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

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