Israeli, Palestinian initial forensics can't determine who killed journalist in Jenin

51-year-old dual American-Palestinian Abu Akleh, from Beit Hanina, was struck by a bullet to the head while covering an IDF raid in the West Bank city. 

Journalists mourn next to the body of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during IDF-Palestinian clashes in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Journalists mourn next to the body of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during IDF-Palestinian clashes in Jenin on May 11, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Israeli and Palestinian initial findings on the death of Shireen Abu Akleh have been unable to determine who shot the veteran Al-Jazeera correspondent in Jenin during clashes between armed Palestinians and IDF troops in Jenin.

Initial investigation indeterminate

An initial autopsy of her body by Palestinian coroners said that she died after a bullet that was fired several meters away struck her head. Dr. Ryan al-Ali of the Pathological Institute at the a-Najah University in Nablus was quoted by al-Jarmak TV channel as saying that they could not determine who had shot her.

The IDF launched an investigation into the death on Wednesday evening. Speaking to journalists on Wednesday night, Gantz said that Israel is “committed to finding out the truth” of the incident and that he has asked the Palestinians to cooperate in the investigation by sharing the bullet that killed her.

“Our initial findings from our investigation cannot determine which gunfire hit Shireen and I cannot exclude anything because of the chaos on the ground,” he said. “I hope to get full cooperation from the Palestinians because without the pathological findings and the forensic findings it will be very hard to understand what happened.”

Expressing his sorrow and regret over her death, the defense minister said that it will take time to get a clear picture of her death and who is at fault.

“I have 40 years of experience and I know that it takes time to figure out exactly what happened, and we are trying to figure out exactly what happened. It can be that the Palestinians shot her, tragically it can be on our side and we are investigating it,” he said, stressing that Israel is “committed to finding out the truth.”

Deadly gun battle in Jenin

The Palestinian Health Ministry said that 51-year-old dual American-Palestinian Abu Akleh, from Beit Hanina, was struck by a bullet to the head while covering an IDF raid in the West Bank city.

Read more on the death of journalist Shireen Abu Aqla in Jenin:

Another journalist, Ali Samoudi, who works for the Jerusalem-based Quds newspaper was reported in stable condition after being struck in the back. Smoudi, a veteran journalist from Jenin who was with Abu Akleh, said that they arrived at the scene to report on the IDF operation. 

"All of a sudden, they opened fire at us," he told reporters from his hospital bed. Smoudi claimed that no one warned him and his colleague before the shooting.

"They killed her in cold blood," he said. "One bullet hit me, the second hit Shireen."

 picture of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army gunfire during an Israeli raid, according to the Qatar-based news channel, is displayed in Al-Jazeera headquarter building in Doha, Qatar, May 11, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI) picture of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli army gunfire during an Israeli raid, according to the Qatar-based news channel, is displayed in Al-Jazeera headquarter building in Doha, Qatar, May 11, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/IMAD CREIDI)

Smoudi dismissed claims by the IDF that there were gunmen in the area during the incident. "There were no resistance fighters," he said. "We were alone in the area."

Abu Akleh will be buried in Jerusalem on Thursday following a ceremony at the Muqata in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The clashes began after IDF, Shin Bet and Border Police forces carried out arrest operations, including in the Jenin refugee camp, near the town of Burkin, and in a number of other locations across the West Bank.

“During the operation in Jenin refugee camp, suspects fired an enormous amount of gunfire at troops and hurled improvised explosive devices. Forces fired back with live fire” the Israeli army said in a statement.

The military said that no troops had been injured or killed in the clashes.

 Tunisian journalists protest the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, in Tunis (credit: REUTERS) Tunisian journalists protest the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, in Tunis (credit: REUTERS)

Who killed Shireen Abu Akleh?

Israeli officials rejected that an IDF bullet killed Abu Akleh, with IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi vowing to fully investigate her death, “using all the tools at our disposal in order to arrive at the truth.”

Kohavi appointed the Head of the Commando Brigade Col. Meni Liberty to lead the investigation.

Expressing his sorrow over her death, Kohavi said that during the arrest raid in Jenin troops encountered dozens of armed Palestinian militants who “fired extensively at our forces, firing wildly and indiscriminately, in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF troops carried out professional and selective firing.” 

Seemingly backtracking from earlier statements from Israeli officials that said Abu Akleh was likely hit by Palestinian bullets, Kohavi said that “at this stage, it is not possible to determine from which bullet she was hit and we are sorry for her death.”

Nevertheless, he added, “IDF soldiers operated under fire, and showed courage and determination to protect the citizens of the country, and we will continue to do so wherever we are required.”

 Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed during clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF troops in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images) Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was killed during clashes between Palestinian gunmen and IDF troops in Jenin on May 11, 2022. (credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH/AFP via Getty Images)

Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ran Kohav told Kan public broadcaster that he didn’t think Israeli forces killed her.

"I don't think we killed her. We offered the Palestinians to open a swift joint probe. If we indeed killed her, we'll take responsibility, but it doesn't seem to be the case,” he said, adding that while the Palestinians “might have a good reason” not to cooperate on a joint investigation, “if they do, we’ll have better answers.”

Kohav told The Jerusalem Post that the Palestinians refused to investigate the incident with Israel.

The Head of the Central Command Maj.-Gen. Yehuda Fuchs told Channel 12 News that there were “thousands of bullets fired today in Jenin, I don’t know who fired the bullet that killed her.”

Fuchs said that entering areas like Jenin and its refugee camp is dangerous for IDF troops and innocent bystanders like Abu Akleh as militants “always fire on us from all directions.”

“Shireen was really close to troops and Palestinian militants and she was hit,” he said.

Expressing his “great sorrow” over her death, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that an initial investigation by the military did not find any indication that the IDF fired toward the journalists.

“IDF troops would never intentionally harm members of the press, and any attempt to imply otherwise is baseless,” he said, and that Israel values the protection of human life ”above all,” as well as freedom of the press. 

Adding that he supports troops, he also supports finding the truth behind her death.

Gantz said that the preliminary findings from the investigation conducted by the IDF “indicate that no gunfire was directed at the journalist – however the investigation is ongoing. We will communicate our findings in a clear and transparent manner to our American friends, as well as to the Palestinian Authority.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas who said he holds Israeli forces "fully responsible" for her death, was throwing accusations at Israel “with no solid basis.”

Bennett said that according to the information that Israel currently has, “there is a good chance that armed Palestinians, who fired widely, are the ones who led to the unfortunate death of the journalist. Palestinians were even documented saying ‘we hit a soldier, he is lying on the ground. No soldier was injured, which raises the possibility that they shot and hit a journalist.”

Adding that “we back our fighters. IDF forces will continue to act against the terrorists in order to break the deadly wave of terrorism and restore security to the citizens of Israel.”

Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that one of their field researchers documented the locations where Abu Akleh was killed as well as where the Palestinian gunmen shown in the video used by Israeli officials and the IDF.

According to the group, the GPS coordinates of the two locations, as well as an aerial photograph of the sites “demonstrate that the shooting depicted in this video could not possibly be the gunfire that hit Shireen Abu Akleh and her colleague.”

Calls for more investigation 

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel offered the Palestinians a "joint pathological investigation into the sad death" of Abu Akleh, adding that "journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.” 

Al Jazeera blamed Israel for her death, saying that she was “deliberately” targeted by troops.

“We condemn this heinous crime, intended to prevent the media from carrying out its message, and we hold the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for her death,” the channel wrote on Twitter, adding “We call on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for the deliberate killing of our colleague Shireen Abu Akleh.”

In footage from the scene, Abu Akleh was seen wearing a Press vest and a helmet but she was hit below the ear in an area not covered by her helmet.

She worked for several agencies such as UNRWA, Radio Voice of Palestine, Amman Satellite Channel, the Moftah Foundation, and Radio Monte Carlo, eventually switching to Al Jazeera in 1997. She was widely known and respected in the Arab world.

Human rights group Yesh Din called for an international investigation into her death, saying that the Israeli defense establishment “has proven in several cases that it is unable to investigate such incidents on its own.”

Abu Akleh’s death “requires urgent international intervention in order to get to the truth, we call for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate this case in depth.”

The IDF has been operating in Jenin and across the West Bank in an attempt to stop the ongoing attacks in Israel that have killed 19 in a month and a half.

Close to 30 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces over the same period of time, either while committing attacks or during clashes. Several bystanders have also been killed, including a teenage girl who was returning home from studying. 

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.