Israel calls US probe into journalist’s death ‘grave mistake,’ says it ‘will not cooperate’

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Monday slammed the Biden administration for launching an investigation into the May shooting death of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Israel had earlier acknowledged that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) likely shot the Al Jazeera journalist while she was reporting on an Israeli security raid in the West Bank but said that the live fire was likely unintentional.

Gantz said the decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to open an investigation “is a grave mistake.”

“The IDF conducted an independent and professional investigation, which was presented to the Americans who shared the details,” the defense minister tweeted.

“I made it clear to the American representatives that we stand behind the IDF soldiers, that we will not cooperate with any external investigation, and we will not allow interference in Israel’s internal affairs,” he added.

Gantz’s comments followed reporting from Axios that the Justice Department was launching an investigation, according to Israeli and American government sources.

That decision follows calls from Abu Akleh’s family for the U.S. government to more fully flesh out the details surrounding the veteran journalist’s death.

A State Department spokesperson said in a statement, “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.”

The State Department referred other questions to the Department of Justice.

The FBI had no comment in response to an inquiry from The Hill.

Fifty-seven House Democrats and 23 Democratic Senators had earlier called for the administration to launch an independent investigation and specifically called for the FBI to launch the probe.

“In order to protect freedom of the press, a thorough and transparent investigation under U.S. auspices must be conducted to get to the truth and provide accountability for the killing of this American citizen and journalist,” the senators wrote in their letter, published in June.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who led the Senate calls for a probe, said Monday, “This is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh. I will continue pressing for the full facts and truth in this case.”

The State Department had sought to walk a fine line between supporting Israeli security interests — IDF has pursued a months-long counterterrorism operation in the West Bank — while calling for accountability for Abu Akleh’s death.

In September, Israeli officials slammed remarks by State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel, who said that Israel should review “its policies and practices on rules of engagement” as part of efforts to exercise accountability for the journalist’s shooting death.

Updated at 5:50 p.m.

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