The US state department says that independent investigators could “not reach a definitive conclusion” regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but said Israeli military gunfire was “likely responsible” for her death.
“Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion,” the state department statement said.
The US security co-ordinator, who oversaw the examination “found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during a military operation against factions of Islamic Jihad … which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.”
A Palestinian official claimed that the US was protecting Israel. “The truth is clear but the US administration continues to stall in announcing it,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said. “We say Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh and it has to be held responsible for the crime it has committed.”
Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz expressed regret over the killing and promised Israel is determined to uncover the truth and will continue its investigation. “During this operational event, like in many others, hundreds of bullets were fired at Israeli troops, who responded with firepower of their own, only in the direction of the sources of the shooting. The first to bear responsibility in such events are the terrorists who operate from within population centres.”
Following pressure from Washington, the Palestinian Authority handed over the bullet on Saturday to US army officers.
A senior American military officer and an American ballistics expert, together with an Israeli team of experts, examined the bullet before it was handed back to the Palestinian Authority on Sunday.
The veteran Palestinian-American correspondent (51) was shot in the head in the flashpoint West Bank refugee camp of Jenin as she covered an Israeli army raid on May 11th aimed at seizing Palestinian militants. Palestinian journalists at the scene when the shooting occurred, Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Authority all blamed Israel.
However, the Israeli army said it was impossible to determine who fired the bullet, and criticised the Palestinians for refusing to hand over the bullet for inspection in Israel.
A number of international media outlets and rights groups published detailed investigations of the case, and all concluded that Israel was likely responsible.
The Palestinian Authority insisted for weeks that it would not hand over the bullet or conduct a joint investigation with Israel but eventually relented and handed over the bullet to the US embassy in Jerusalem for examination.
Israel also came in for severe international criticism after clashes during Abu Akleh’s funeral in Jerusalem, when police charged mourners carrying Palestinian flags with batons, almost causing the coffin to fall to the ground.
The latest developments come ahead of next week’s visit to the region by US president Joe Biden, and Washington was keen to clear up the controversy over the killing before the trip.