JERUSALEM (AP) — Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday. The broadcaster and a reporter who was wounded in the incident blamed Israeli forces.
The Israel army initially raised the possibility that Abu Akleh might have been killed by stray Palestinian fire, saying militants were also present in the area, However, army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi later stepped back from that assertion, saying that "at this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.”
Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for her coverage of the harsh realities of Israel's military occupation for the past three decades. Her death reverberated across the region and set alight social media. She reported for Al Jazeera's Arabic language channel and was also a U.S. citizen. The State Department called her death “an affront to media freedom.”
She was fatally shot in the head early Wednesday on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Her producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in the back.
Al Jazeera accused Israel of "deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.” Palestinian journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time said they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers, and that they did not see militants in the area.
The Israeli military said its forces came under attack with heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and that they fired back. The military said it was investigating “and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”
Kochavi, the army chief, said a special team had been formed to investigate.
Israel released a video of Palestinian gunmen firing in an alley of the Jenin camp, later saying the video was meant to bolster its contention that Palestinians were firing in the area.
However, the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem released its own video casting doubt on those claims.
The B'Tselem video was taken by one of its researchers who walked between the location of the militants in the video and where Abu Akleh was shot. It also provided coordinates for the two locations. They appeared to be about 300 meters (330 yards) apart and separated by walls and buildings.
Dror Sadot, a spokeswoman for the group, said its evidence shows “there is no way” that the gunfire shown in the video killed Abu Akleh. “There is no clear shot,” she said.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett noted that in the video, a militant is heard shouting that a soldier has been wounded. Because no Israelis were hurt, he said that suggested the gunmen had shot a journalist instead.
Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem and began working for Al Jazeera in 1997. She regularly reported from across the Palestinian territories, making her a well-known face on television screens across the Arab world.
Samoudi, who was working as her producer, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early Wednesday. He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would know that they were there.
He said a first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army. He said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie.”