Public outcry over Israeli police action at funeral of Al Jazeera journalist

Footage showed pallbearers struggling to keep Shireen Abu Akleh’s coffin from falling


The US and EU led an international outcry today after Israeli police charged into the funeral procession in Jerusalem of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and beat pallbearers who nearly knocked over her coffin.

Thousands of people swarmed Jerusalem’s Old City yesterday for the funeral of veteran Al Jazeera journalist, two days after she was killed in an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

Television footage showed the pallbearers struggling to keep Shireen Abu Akleh’s coffin from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police charged at them, grabbing Palestinian flags from mourners.

The United States said it was “deeply disturbed” by the scenes, while the European Union said it was “appalled” by the “unnecessary force”.

The Jerusalem Red Crescent Society said 33 people were injured, six of them hospitalized. Israeli authorities said six people were arrested after mourners threw “stones and glass bottles”.

Israel and the Palestinians have exchanged responsibility for the death of Abu Akleh on May 11, who was shot in the head during the Israeli army’s raid on the Jenin refugee camp.

The Israeli military said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting that stray Palestinian fire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were the two possible causes.

But the Palestinian prosecutor’s office in Ramallah, West Bank, later said initial results of an investigation showed “the only origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces”.

Al Jazeera said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.

In a rare unanimous statement, the UN Security Council condemned the killing and called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation”, according to diplomats.

– ‘Deeply disturbed’ –

Christian and Palestinian-American Abu Akleh was a star journalist and her funeral drew massive crowds.

As his body left St. Joseph’s Hospital in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, Israeli police charged at mourners who had raised Palestinian flags.

Police said approximately “300 rioters” arrived at the hospital for the motorcade and “prevented family members from loading the casket onto the hearse to proceed to the cemetery as planned and coordinated with the family in advance”.

The police then intervened “to disperse the crowd and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could take place as planned”. Glass bottles and other items were thrown at police, he added in a statement.

The United States was “deeply disturbed to see the footage of Israeli police intruding on his funeral procession today,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“Every family deserves to be able to rest their loved ones with dignity and without hindrance.”

The EU said it was “appalled by the violence within the grounds of St Joseph’s Hospital and the unnecessary level of force exerted by Israeli police throughout the funeral procession”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was also “deeply disturbed” by the violence, according to a spokesperson.

Thousands of Palestinian mourners tried to follow the coffin to the cemetery just outside the old walled city.

Police briefly tried to stop them, but eventually relented, allowing thousands to march towards the grave, and did not intervene when Palestinian flags were waved, AFP reporters said. .

– ‘Sister of all Palestinians’ –

A sign of Shireen Abu Akleh’s notoriety, she received what was described as a full state memorial service on May 12 at the compound of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in Ramallah before his body was transferred to Jerusalem.

The United States, the European Union and the United Nations supported calls for a full investigation into Abu Akleh’s murder.

Israel has publicly called for a joint investigation, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected.

Grief over the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh has spread beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests erupting in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.

She “was the sister of all Palestinians,” her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.

– New violence –

Further violence broke out in the West Bank on Friday, including a raid and clashes around the Jenin refugee camp in which an Israeli commando was killed.

The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible.

The slain Israeli officer has been identified as Noam Raz, a 47-year-old father of six. Police said he was injured “in a shootout with armed terrorists” and later died.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 13 Palestinians were injured in the clashes, one of them seriously.

An AFP photographer said Israeli forces surrounded the house of a suspect, besieging two men inside and firing anti-tank grenades at the house in a bid to flush them out.

Tension was already high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli policeman and two Ukrainians.

A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, including bombers and people killed by Israeli security forces during operations in the West Bank.

(Except for the title, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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