An updated United States report is expected to support findings that American-Palestinian reporter Shireen Abu Akleh was likely killed by accidental IDF gunfire, US State Department Deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said on freedom press day on Wednesday.
“IDF gunfire was likely the reason” for Abu Akleh’s death, Patel said noting that it was “unintentional” and due to “incredibly tragic circumstances.”
He spoke after Democratic Senator Chis Van Hollen of Maryland pushed for the release of an undated report by US Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC) who investigated the circumstance of her death on May 11 while covering a firefight between Palestinian gunmen and the IDF.
An initial report compiled last summer by the USSC had concluded that the IDF may have accidentally shot her.
Patel said that he had not seen the report, but it is “my understanding that the USSC has not changed the same conclusion that was released last summer.”
He added that the focus has been on ensuring that the IDF’s “rules of engagement” allow for journalists and civilians to operate safely during such volatile incidents.
“Since Shireen’s tragic death we have continued to press Israel to closely review its practices,” Patel said. The US condemns Abu Akleh’s killing and “our hearts remain with her family,” Patel said. She was a
US citizen and a reporter “who earned the respect of audiences around the world,” he added.
PA says the IDF deliberately targeted Abu Akleh
The Palestinian Authority has accused the IDF of deliberately targeting her while Israel has concurred with America’s conclusions.
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and flack jacket that clearly identified her as a journalist when she was shot. There has not been a definitive determination as to who fired the lethal bullet.
Van Hollen in a letter he wrote to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday spoke of his concern that portions of the report would be changed and insisted that it should be released now.
“I ask that you immediately authorize the release of the full and unedited … report under appropriate classification to me and other interested Members of Congress,” Van Hollen wrote.
“My office has been in contact with individuals at the State Department several times over the last 12 days regarding this matter,” the senator from Maryland wrote.
“Most recently, we were informed that, before the Congressional release of the USSC Report is authorized, the Administration plans to make unspecified changes to its contents.
While the Administration has characterized its proposed changes as ‘technical,’ any actions to alter the USSC's Summation Report in any way would violate the integrity of this process,” Van Hollen stated.
“As we approach the one-year anniversary of Ms. Abu Akleh's death, no one has been held accountable and no independent, official investigation has been completed.
“At the same time, the Security Coordinator has had the opportunity to review an array of in-depth analyses and assessments in order to complete the Summation Report,” Van Hollen said.
Abu Akleh’s niece Lina renewed her call on the US government to hold Israel accountable for her aunt’s death tweeting that the “the Biden Administration hasn't taken meaningful action toward” to ensure justice.
Last #WorldPressFreedomDay @POTUS said protecting journalists and press freedom is vital. Almost 1 year since my aunt, Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, was killed by an Israeli soldier, the Biden admin hasn't taken meaningful action toward #JusticeForShireen.— Lina Abu Akleh (@LinaAbuAkleh) May 3, 2023
According to the US-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), 67 correspondents were killed in 2022, including Abu Akleh. That number represented a 50% rise over the previous year. The highest fatalities were in Ukraine, with 15 deaths, Mexico where 13 journalists were killed and Haiti with seven deaths.