Israel has protested to the US over its decision to investigate the killing of veteran Palestinian-US journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and will not co-operate, senior Israeli officials said on Tuesday.
Abu Akleh, who worked for the Al Jazeera media group and was a household name across the Middle East, was shot dead while covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin, in the occupied West Bank, in May this year.
Prime minister Yair Lapid said Israeli soldiers would not “be investigated by the FBI or by any other foreign country or entity, however friendly it may be”, and that Israel had conveyed its “strong protest” to the US, following media reports that the US had opened a probe into Abu Akleh’s killing.
Lapid’s stance echoed that of defence minister Benny Gantz, who earlier branded the decision by the US justice department to conduct a probe into Abu Akleh’s death “a mistake”, and said he had told US officials that Israel would not assist an “external investigation”.
The US justice department and the FBI both declined to comment.
Palestinian officials have blamed Israeli soldiers for Abu Akleh’s death — which sparked outrage around the world and cast a spotlight on Israeli operations in the West Bank — while Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.
After initially casting doubt on suggestions that one of its soldiers had killed Abu Akleh, Israel in September acknowledged that there was a “high possibility” that she had been shot by mistake by an Israeli soldier, who did not identify her as a journalist, in an exchange of fire with militants.
Abu Akleh’s family said that it was “encouraged” by the news of the US investigation, adding it hoped the US would use “all of the investigative tools at its disposal” to “get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable”.
“We hope that this investigation by the United States will be truly independent, credible, and thorough, following the evidence where it leads, up and down the chain of command,” the family said in a statement.
Abu Akleh’s killing — and scenes at her funeral during which Israeli riot police beat mourners, including her pallbearers, almost causing them to drop her casket — triggered fierce criticism from the international community and was followed by a series of examinations and media reconstructions.
The UN human rights office said the shot that killed Abu Akleh came from the direction of Israeli forces, while the US said in July after reviewing Israeli and Palestinian probes into her death that unintentional Israeli gunfire was “likely responsible” for her death.
After Israel completed its own probes in September, Israel’s military advocate general said there would be no military criminal probe into the killing of Abu Akleh, who was shot in the head while wearing a helmet and a blue flak jacket marked “press”, as there was no suspicion that an offence warranting such a move had been committed.
Gantz said on Tuesday that the investigation by Israel’s military had been “professional” and “independent” and that the results had been shared with US officials at the time.