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The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has called on Israel to accept responsibility for the fatal shooting of American-Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who worked for Al Jazeera at the time of her death.
Her colleague Ali Sammoudi was also injured when the two were fired upon on May 11 while covering a gun battle between Palestinian and Israeli soldiers in Jenin. “It is deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation,” Ravina Shamdasani said at a briefing on Friday. “All information we have gathered—including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian Attorney-General—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, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities.”
The accusation follows similar findings by a New York Times investigative team in a report published this week that said “the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.”
Israel initially said that due to gunfights between Israeli and Palestinian forces in the area, it was “not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire.”
The UN group has gone a step further in saying that there was actually no gun battle where the group of journalists were taking cover. “We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” Shamdasani said, citing photo, video, and audio evidence they surveyed at the scene and via interviews. In the UN reconstruction, seven journalists, including Abu Akleh, arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin refugee camp to cover an ongoing operation and clashes. “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,” the UN report states.
The UN said that there were no warning shots fired and “no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.” Then, at around 6:30 a.m., four of the journalists wearing bulletproof helmets and PRESS flak jackets were hit by “several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets” that UNHCR says “were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces.”
A single bullet hit Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder and “another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly.” The UN says several more bullets were fired as journalists checked on their fallen colleague. “Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh’s body,” the findings say.
Days later, Abu Akleh’s funeral procession also came under fire and her coffin nearly fell to the ground after Israeli forces grabbed the Palestinian flags as her coffin was being carried from St. Louis French Hospital in occupied East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. No one has been punished for the attack on the funeral.
The UN is now urging Israel to open a criminal investigation into not only Abu Akleh’s killing but into “all other killings and serious injuries by Israeli forces in the West Bank and in the context of law enforcement operations in Gaza.”
They say that, since the beginning of 2022, Israeli security forces have killed 58 Palestinians in the West Bank, including 13 children. “International human-rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury,” the group says. “Perpetrators must be held to account.”