The Biden administration said Monday that the Israeli military likely killed Palestinian-American Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh — announcing the finding just nine days before President Biden arrives in the Jewish state for a high-stakes visit.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said that Abu Akleh, 51, likely died as a result of Israeli gunfire while covering a May 11 military raid on a suspected Islamic Jihad location in Jenin in the West Bank — as Palestinians had claimed.
Price also said, however, that forensic analysis of a bullet handed over by the Palestinian Authority was inconclusive.
“After an extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent, third-party examiners, as part of a process overseen by the US Security Coordinator (USSC), could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion,” Price said.
But Price said additional analysis pins the probable blame on Israel.
“In addition to the forensic and ballistic analysis, the USSC was granted full access to both Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority (PA) investigations over the last several weeks. By summarizing both investigations, the USSC concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh,” Price said.
“The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel.”
It’s unclear how the attribution might impact US-Israel relations ahead of Biden’s visit, or how Palestinian activists will react to the US fingering Israel.
The president’s upcoming trip will be his most challenging international mission yet and he is expected to visit Bethlehem in the West Bank — the hometown of Abu Akleh’s father — before traveling to Saudi Arabia in a bid to ease record gas prices.
Abu Akleh was wearing a blue bulletproof vest that said “PRESS” when she was shot in the head.
Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi told NPR shortly after the incident that Israeli soldiers allowed the TV crew to approach a home that was surrounded before three shots were fired — one of them striking Abu Akleh. He said that he believed Israeli troops were responsible.
But then-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the time, “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.”
A photo from the scene shows Abu Akleh laying on the ground next to a shell-shocked female colleague. Both women were wearing helmets and vests that said PRESS.
Abu Akleh had worked for Al Jazeera since 1997. She was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian Christian family and later gained US citizenship while living with family in New Jersey.
Israeli troops were conducting the raid amid an upsurge in tensions between Palestinians and Israeli authorities, including clashes in Jerusalem and acts of Palestinian terrorism. Abu Akleh’s death further worsened the situation — with mourners and Israeli authorities clashing during her funeral procession, causing the journalist’s coffin to nearly fall to the ground.
Biden has described his July 13-16 trip to the Middle East as a bid to promote both peace in the region as well as Israel’s interests.
The president even claimed that the Saudi leg of the trip was not meant to help lower record US gas prices, but to help Israel. In Saudi Arabia, Biden will seek to make nice with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after previously trying to sideline him over his alleged role in the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.
At a Thursday news conference in Madrid following last week’s NATO summit, Biden said he was “going to Israel to meet with Israeli leaders to affirm the unbreakable bond Israel and the United States have.
“And part of the purpose is — the trip to the Middle East — is to deepen Israel’s integration in the region, which I think we’re going to be able to do and which is good — good for peace and good for Israeli security,” the president added. “And that’s why Israel leaders have come out so strongly for my going to Saudi [Arabia].”
Biden took office following a series of pro-Israel actions by the Trump administration, including relocating the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing Israel’s contested annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria.
Former President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner in 2020 helped broker the Abraham Accords, which laid the groundwork for diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab states.