Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American journalist for Al Jazeera’s Arab Service, was shot in the head on May 11 during an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials said she was hit by Israeli fire. Israel says she was shot in a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. He says only a ballistic analysis of the bullet – which is held by the Palestinian Authority – and the soldiers’ weapons can determine who fired the fatal shot.
Announcing the results of his investigation at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Attorney General Akram Al Khateeb said he had determined that there were no militants in the immediate area where found Abu Akleh.
“The only shots were fired by the occupying forces, with the intention of killing,” he said.
Abu Akleh was among a group of journalists wearing helmets and protective vests marked “press”. Al Khateeb said the army had seen the journalists and knew they were journalists.
He accused Israel of shooting Abu Akleh “directly and deliberately” as she tried to escape. He also repeated the Palestinian position that the ball will not be handed over to the Israelis for study. He said they decided not to even show the bullet footage “to deprive (Israel) of another lie.”
Al Khateeb said his investigation was based on interviews with witnesses, a scene inspection and a forensic report.
In a speech later Thursday, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi said it was impossible to know who fired the bullet and again called on Palestinians to cooperate to ‘get to the bottom’ of what happened. .
“But there is one thing that can be determined with certainty,” the military leader said. “No soldier intentionally shot a journalist. We investigated this. We checked it. This is the conclusion. There’s no other.
Israel denies targeting journalists and has offered two possible scenarios, saying that Abu Akleh was shot dead by Palestinian militants recklessly firing at an Israeli army convoy or that she was hit by Israeli gunfire aimed an activist nearby. The military has identified the rifle that could have been used in this scenario, but says it must test the bullet to make a final decision.
An AP reconstruction of events has supported eyewitnesses who say she was shot by Israeli troops. But the reconstruction said it was impossible to reach a conclusive conclusion without further forensic analysis.
Palestinian witnesses say there were no militants or clashes near Abu Akleh. The only known militants in the area were on the other side of the convoy, about 300 meters (yards) from its position. They had no direct line of sight, unlike the convoy itself, which was about 200 (meters) away on a long straight road.
Israel publicly called for a joint investigation with the PA, with US participation, and asked the PA to hand over the bullet for testing. But the State Department said Wednesday it had not received any formal request for assistance from either side two weeks after his death.
The PA has refused to hand the buck to Israel or cooperate with it in any way, saying Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its own conduct. Rights groups say Israel has a poor track record of investigating when security forces fire on Palestinians, with cases often languishing for months or years before being quietly closed.
The PA administers parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hussein Al Sheikh, a senior Palestinian official, said Thursday’s report would be shared with the US administration. Copies will also be given to Abu Akleh’s family and to Al Jazeera, he said.
The Palestinians say they will also share their findings with international parties, including the International Criminal Court, which launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes last year. Israel has dismissed this investigation as being biased against her and is not cooperating with her.
The grave mistrust means that Israeli and Palestinian investigations into Abu Akleh’s death are proceeding separately, with neither accepting the other’s findings.
Each party is alone in possession of potentially crucial evidence. Ballistics analysis could match the bullet to a specific firearm based on a microscopic signature, but only if investigators have access to both. Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, a military spokesman, told the AP the military had additional footage from that day, but declined to say what they show or when they would be released, citing the ongoing investigation.
Palestinians still mourn Abu Akleh, a widely known and respected on-air correspondent who rose to fame two decades ago during the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, against Israeli rule. The 51-year-old has documented the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule – now well into its sixth decade with no end in sight – for viewers across the Arab world.
Jenin has long been a stronghold of Palestinian militants, and several recent attacks inside Israel have been carried out by young men from the city and surrounding areas. Israel has continued to carry out near-daily raids in Jenin since Abu Akleh’s death, which it says are aimed at preventing further raids.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war and built settlements where nearly 500,000 Israelis live alongside nearly 3 million Palestinians. The Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state, but peace talks broke down more than a decade ago and Israel’s dominant right-wing parties oppose a Palestinian state.
The PA itself is seen by many Palestinians as a corrupt and authoritarian body that aids the occupation by coordinating with Israel on security issues. Any cooperation with Israel on the investigation of Abu Akleh would likely trigger a popular backlash among Palestinians, who view her as a martyr both to journalism and to their national cause.
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.