JERUSALEM (CelebrityAccess) – Veteran Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering the Israeli military raid in the West Bank region of Jenin on Wednesday (May 11).
Akleh, 51, a revered and respected figure on Arab TV, was shot in the head while reporting near the Jenin refugee camp. She was taken to a hospital before she succumbed to her injuries. Akleh’s body was carried out of al-Najah University draped in a Palestinian flag en route to Istishari Hospital in Ramallah for autopsy. Al Jazeera reports an official funeral will be held for her tomorrow (May 12) at the Palestinian Presidency headquarters in Ramallah.
The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry and Al Jazeera have accused Israeli forces of killing Akleh “in cold blood” and said she had been “clearly wearing a press jacket that identifies her as a journalist.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that he “condemns the crime of the execution of Shireen Abu Akleh” and holds Israel “fully responsible.”
Initially, the Israeli army stated that Akleh might have been killed by stray Palestinian fire. However, Army Chief LTG Aviv Kochavi later removed himself from those statements saying, “At this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed, and we regret her death.” In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were conducting counterterrorism operations in Jenin. During the operation, “armed Palestinians shot in an inaccurate, indiscriminate and uncontrolled manner.”
Kochavi said a special team had been formed to investigate the incident, yet Palestinian officials deny Israel has reached out to perform a joint investigation.
Akleh’s producer, Palestinian reporter Ali Samoudi was shot in the back but is reported to be hospitalized in stable condition. The Washington Post reports that Samoudi and another journalist in the area have disputed Israeli assertions that she was killed during crossfire. Samoudi stated from his hospital bed, “It was dead quiet.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Samoudi said the journalists were all wearing protective gear marking them as press and were near Israeli military vehicles. There were no other Palestinian civilians or fighters in the area that he could see. Samoudi said a single shot rang out, then a second, and he was struck in the back. Akleh began yelling, “Ali has been shot!”. He said, “Then they shot Shireen. She dropped dead immediately.” He adamantly defended the claim that they were not caught in any crossfire between soldiers and militants.
Atah Abu-Rumeleh, a doctor in Jenin who said he witnessed the shooting, confirmed Samoudi’s statements of no crossfire 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.”
Akleh was a high-profile journalist covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Born in Jerusalem, with a Jerusalem residency and an American passport, she joined Al Jazeera in 1997 as a field correspondent. Her tireless work as an Arabic correspondent made her a very familiar face for millions of viewers in the Arab world. Tributes have poured in regarding news of her death.
Fadi Quaran (Palestinian Activist) – “Shireen was a brave, kind, and high-integrity journalist that I and millions of Palestinians grew up watching. A devastating tragedy.”
Khalida Jarrar (Palestinian MP) – “Shireen was always my voice from the prison cells. Shireen was our voice. It is unbelievable. It is a crime; it is all clear – intentional and direct targeting. She was targeted. It’s clear.”
Dalia Hatuqa (Friend and Journalist) – “She had an infectious laugh. She loved to travel, see the world, shop, party,” Hatuqa said. “She lost her mother and father when she was younger and saw so much cruelty in the world, especially in Palestine, but that never stopped her from appreciating and enjoying life.”
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was heartbroken and strongly condemned Abu Akleh’s killing. “The investigation must be immediate and thorough, and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere,” he said.