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Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

By By Joseph Krauss and Fares Akram, Associated Press
Shireen Abu Akleh (Al Jazeera Media Network via AP)

Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has been shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.

The broadcaster and a reporter who was wounded in the incident blamed Israeli forces.

The Israel army initially raised the possibility that Ms 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”.

Palestinian mourners carry pictures of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in front of the office of the Al Jazeera channel in the West Bank city of Ramallah (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Ms 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 on social media.

Ms Abu Akleh reported for Al Jazeera’s Arabic language channel and was also a US citizen.

She was fatally shot in the head early on Wednesday on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank.

Her producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was in hospital in a stable condition after being shot in the back.

Al Jazeera accused Israel of “deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.

Palestinian journalists who were with Ms 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.

An injured journalist is hugged by one of the colleagues of Shireen Abu Akleh in hospital in Jenin (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

The military said it was investigating “and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen”.

Lt Gen Kochavi 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 Ms Abu Akleh was shot.

It also provided co-ordinates for the two locations.

They appeared to be about 300 metres (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 Ms Abu Akleh.

An outdoor screen in Ramallah shows a picture of Shireen Abu Akleh and Arabic that reads ‘Goodbye Shireen, the voice of Palestine’ (Nasser Nasser/AP)

“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.

Ms 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.

Mr 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 on 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.

Mr Samoudi said a first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Ms Abu Akleh.

The family of Shireen Abu Akleh weep while watching a news report about her death, as mourners gather at the family home in Jerusalem (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area – only the reporters and the army.

Mr Samoudi said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie”.

The Qatar-based network, which has long had strained relations with Israel, interrupted its broadcast to announce her death.

In a statement flashed on its channel, it called on the international community to “condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.

“We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice,” Al Jazeera said.

It aired a separate video showing Ms Abu Akleh lying motionless on the side of a road next to a wall as another journalist crouches nearby and a man screams for an ambulance.

Gunfire rings out in the background.

Both reporters were wearing blue flak jackets clearly marked with the word “Press”.

Palestinians prepare posters with pictures of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at the office of the Al Jazeera channel in Ramallah (Nasser Nasser/AP)

The video did not show the source of the gunfire.

Shaza Hanaysheh, another Palestinian journalist among the reporters, also said there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area.

She said that when the shots rang out she and Ms Abu Akleh ran towards a tree to take shelter.

“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell on the ground,” Ms Hanaysheh told Al Jazeera.

“Every time I extended my hand toward Shireen, the soldiers fired at us.”

Israel said it had proposed a joint investigation and post-mortem examination with the Palestinian Authority, which refused the offer.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and co-operates with Israel on security matters, condemned what it said was a “shocking crime” committed by Israeli forces.

Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks amid a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, many of them carried out by Palestinians from Jenin.

A neighbour of Shireen Abu Akleh distributes sandwiches to mourners gathered outside the family home in Jerusalem (Maya Alleruzzo/AP)

The town, and particularly its refugee camp, has long been known as a militant bastion.

Hundreds of Palestinians, including several masked gunmen, marched through Jenin in a funeral procession, carrying Ms Abu Akleh’s body draped with a Palestinian flag and a blue press vest.

Her body was to be taken to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian government, before burial in Jerusalem.

Condolences poured in from across the Arab world.

Qatar, which funds Al Jazeera, condemned the killing “in the strongest terms”, calling it a “flagrant violation of international humanitarian law” and a “blatant attack on media freedom”.

The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, tweeted that he was “very sad” to learn of Ms Abu Akleh’s death and called for a “thorough investigation”.

He also confirmed she was an American citizen.

The Arab League condemned the shooting and blamed Israel, and Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi called the shooting “a heinous crime”.

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Dive Deeper:
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One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
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Get all your news in one place