Jul 1, 2022 - World

U.S. ramps up pressure on Palestinians to provide bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh

A Palestinian student holds a picture of Shireen Abu Akleh during a protest condemning her murder in Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
A Palestinian student holds a picture of Shireen Abu Akleh during a protest condemning her murder in Nablus in the occupied West Bank. Photo: Nasser Ishtayeh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Biden administration is pressing the Palestinian Authority to give the U.S. the bullet that killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in order to try to determine the source of the fatal shot, three U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The White House and State Department, who are under political pressure from members of Congress over the Abu Akleh case, appear to want to be able to make some kind of breakthrough in the investigation before President Biden's visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank on July 13.

State of play: Both Israel and the Palestinians have conducted their own investigations of the May 11 incident.

  • The Israel military operational investigation determined that there was a possibility that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier, but it was not possible to determine who fired the fatal shot without a without a ballistic test of the bullet against the guns that were used by the soldiers in the area. It said that if an Israeli soldier did shoot her, it was not intentional.
  • The Palestinian investigation determined that Israeli soldiers killed Abu Akleh. Palestinian officials have refused to give Israel the fragment of the bullet that was extracted from Abu Akleh's body to do a ballistic test, claiming they don't trust Israel.
  • Citing witnesses, as well as visual and audio evidence, independent investigations by several news organizations, including the Washington Post, AP and the New York Times, found that it was likely an Israeli soldier fired the fatal shot. A probe conducted by the UN human rights body came to a similar conclusion.

The big picture: Last week, 24 Democratic senators led by Chris Van Hollen of Maryland sent a letter to President Biden demanding a more active U.S. role in the investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.

  • Two weeks earlier, several House democrats sent a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken calling for an FBI investigation of the journalist's killing.

Behind the scenes: In the last five weeks, the Biden administration has pressed the Palestinians to give the bullet to the U.S. so that it can do the ballistic test, U.S. and Israeli officials told Axios. 

  • The officials said the Biden administration proposed to Palestinian and Israeli officials that U.S. security coordinator Lt. Gen. Michael Fenzel lead the investigation and be responsible for the ballistic test.
  • According to two sources briefed on the issue, the Palestinians for several weeks rejected all the requests by the U.S. to provide the bullet, creating a lot of frustration in the Biden administration.
  • In recent days, the Palestinians signaled they might be willing to change course and give the bullet to the U.S. in order to finish the investigation, the sources said.
  • On Thursday, Blinken spoke on the phone with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and emphasized the importance of thorough, transparent and impartial investigations, a State Department official said.
  • Palestinian minister for civilian affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, who is in charge of the discussions on the issue with the Biden administration, didn’t answer three requests for comment.

What they're saying: "The U.S. government is in close contact with both Israeli and Palestinian officials to urge both authorities to fully cooperate in investigating the circumstances of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, to include sharing forensic evidence," a State Department spokesperson said. 

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