Blinken to Lapid: U.S. wants to see accountability for killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken told Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in a phone call on Wednesday that the Biden administration wants to see accountability for the killing of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, U.S. and Israeli officials told me.
Why it matters: Israeli officials had hoped that Monday's State Department statement on the investigation into the death of Abu Akleh would have put the issue behind them, but Blinken's comments signal the U.S. wants the Al Jazeera journalist's case to stay at the forefront.
The State Department on Monday said that based on the investigations done by Israeli and Palestinian officials, it was "likely" Abu Akleh was killed by unintentional Israeli fire, but the ballistics test of the bullet removed from the Al Jazeera journalist's body was inconclusive.
- The U.S. security coordinator "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," the State Department added.
- The statement left both sides unhappy and unsatisfied. Israeli and Palestinian officials separately protested in private to the Biden administration and tried to press the State Department in order to influence the final text and conclusions.
- The Biden administration had already been facing growing pressure by some Democratic lawmakers in Washington to do more in the Palestinian American's case.
Driving the news: Blinken called Lapid to congratulate him for assuming office as prime minister and to discuss President Biden’s upcoming visit, but he also raised the issue of the U.S. Security Coordinator's findings about Abu Akleh's case.
- “Blinken noted that the U.S. would continue to work closely with Israeli and Palestinian authorities and reiterated that need for accountability in the wake of her tragic death," a State Department official told me.
- A senior Israeli official confirmed Blinken raised the issue and asked what more could be done.
What’s next: Israeli officials told me Israel will take no further action on Abu Akleh's case other than internal military procedures that had already been announced.
- After the military's operational investigation has been completed, the military prosecutor will decide whether there is a need for a criminal investigation, which is highly unlikely.
- Palestinian officials say they will continue their efforts to bring the case to the International Criminal Court.
What to watch: During his visit to the region next week, Biden is set to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.