Veteran journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while reporting on an Israeli army raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank for Al Jazeera, the TV network reported on Wednesday. Al Jazeera says an Israeli force killed Abu Akleh; Israel’s government says it believes she may have been hit by Palestinian gunfire.
Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old U.S. citizen, had been covering a military raid on the Jenin refugee camp “when she was shot in the face by a single bullet, despite wearing a press vest,” Al Jazeera said. It said the TV correspondent had been “assassinated in cold blood” after she was targeted by the Israeli forces.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement saying, “According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist.”
Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi was also shot while covering the raid. From his hospital bed, he told NPR that the TV network’s team had arrived where Israeli soldiers were surrounding a Palestinian home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
They walked past soldiers who allowed them to proceed, he said. The journalists were carrying camera equipment and wearing blue vests clearly marked with the word “PRESS.”
After they passed, he said, three shots rang out.
Samoudi said the second shot him in the back, and the third hit Abu Akleh in the head.
The producer disagreed with Israel’s assessment that Palestinian gunmen were likely responsible.
“There were no resistance fighters around us,” Samoudi said, according to a translation by Middle East Eye. “When there are Palestinian fighters shooting, we don’t go.”
Another witness, Palestinian journalist Shatha Hanaysha, said journalists had been cornered when Abu Akleh was shot. Her colleague’s death was an assassination, she said.
“We stood together in a collective way as journalists, then we started moving. We were shocked by the live ammunition fired at us,” she told Al Jazeera. “We reached an area that did not allow us to withdraw.”
The gunfire came from snipers, she said.
“The one that killed Shireen was intended to kill her because he shot the bullet at an area of her body that was not protected,” Hanaysha added.
Israel’s military said it “is investigating the event and looking into the possibility that journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”
The Israel Defense Forces said the raid was mounted “to apprehend terrorist suspects” in the Jenin camp. It acknowledges that its soldiers opened fire, but it said that only happened after “tens of Palestinian gunmen fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers.”
When the soldiers opened fire, it said, they shot “toward the gunmen and hits were identified.”
The IDF released a video that it says shows a Palestinian fighter “recklessly opened fire” with his rifle during Wednesday’s raid, adding, “They falsely claimed to have hit an IDF soldier.” The video does not show whether the person firing hit anyone, or where the bullets may have landed.
The posting seemed to imply the gunman’s bullets might have struck the journalists. But B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitor, said its field researcher had identified the location of Abu Akleh’s death and that of the shooting — and said that the two spots are far apart.
Israel’s prime minister called on Palestinians to “conduct a joint pathological analysis and investigation” with Israel into the shooting.
The Palestinian Authority is instead calling for an international investigation to look into the incident, saying that Israel’s official involvement would undermine an inquiry’s credibility.
The well-respected journalist spent decades covering conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis for Al Jazeera’s Arabic service, including some of the most intense fighting during the Second Intifada of the early 2000s.
Palestinians who watched Abu Akleh’s reports on television did so to learn what was happening in their own backyards.
Hours after her death, mourners came to pay their respects as Abu Akleh’s body was moved from a hospital to be prepared for burial. Her body was covered by a Palestinian flag and a press flak jacket.
The Foreign Press Association in Israel and the Palestinian territories says it is “appalled and deeply shocked” by the killing of Abu Akleh. It also said the investigation into her death should be immediate and transparent.
“Her death is a tremendous loss for journalism, and the FPA offers its deepest condolences to Al Jazeera and her family,” the association said. (Editor’s note: NPR is a member of the organization.)
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides encouraged a “thorough investigation into the circumstances” of the journalist’s death.
The Israeli soldiers involved in the raid were trying to contain violence that has been intensifying in recent weeks, Bennett said. This past weekend, a Palestinian axe attack killed three Israelis. And on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said Israeli troops had killed another Palestinian.
There have also been heightened emotions because nationalist Jewish activists have been visiting and praying at a sensitive Jerusalem holy site, the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City.
Israeli forces have been carrying out arrest raids in Palestinian villages at night. The economy in the West Bank is dismal following the pandemic, and Israeli officials are calling on their own citizens to bear arms for protection. Against that backdrop, the Israeli government is trying to be sensitive to the anger of its citizens, even as the leadership struggles politically to survive.