Rival narratives have emerged over how the Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed yesterday.
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The veteran correspondent, described as an “icon of Palestinian coverage”, was shot while reporting in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. She was wearing a helmet and a protective jacket labelled “press”.
Al Jazeera insisted that Israeli troops “deliberately” shot their reporter in “cold blood”. A second Al Jazeera employee, Ali Samodi, a producer who was wounded in the incident, said that “all of a sudden” Israeli soldiers “opened fire at us” and “the first bullet hit me, the second one hit Shireen”.
Shatha Hanaysha, a journalist for Quds News Network who also witnessed the incident, said: “Even after [Abu Akleh] fell to the ground the fire did not stop and none of us were able to reach her.”
Hanaysha, who was less than a metre from Abu Akleh when she was shot, was in no doubt about what happened in front of her. “This is an assassination,” she said.
However, the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said there was “a considerable chance” that “armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.
The Israeli military said its troops shot back after coming under “massive fire” in Jenin and announced initially that “there is a possibility, now being looked into, that reporters were hit – possibly by shots fired by Palestinian gunmen”.
However, said The Guardian, the Israeli military chief, Lt Gen Aviv Kochavi, “appeared to back away” from this claim, saying: “At this stage we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.”
According to the Agence France-Presse news agency, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) denied they had deliberately targeted journalists and the Israeli government said it had “offered the Palestinians a joint pathological investigation”. The spokesman for the Palestinian Authority has already said his government rejects any role for Israel in any investigation.
Analysing two videos that are being shared online, Sky News said one shows the moment the reporter was shot, as those around her shout warnings that a sniper is firing at them, while the second shows what Israeli authorities claim is a Palestinian man in a balaclava “firing indiscriminately”.
The second video, which has been shared by Israel’s prime minister and the country’s foreign ministry, has one man’s words translated on screen: “They’ve hit one, they’ve hit a soldier, he’s laying on the ground.”
Writing on Twitter, Bennett said that as “no IDF soldier was injured”, this “increases the possibility that Palestinian terrorists were the ones who shot the journalist”.
Al Jazeera noted that the UN Human Rights Office has called for an “independent, transparent investigation into her killing” adding that “impunity must end”.
The White House also called for an investigation, saying it “must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable”.