Sep 5, 2022 - World

Israeli investigation finds Shireen Abu Akleh likely killed by unintentional IDF fire

A vigil for Shireen Abu Akleh in London in May. Photo: Guy Smallman/Getty Images

The final conclusion of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh is that the Palestinian American journalist was most likely killed in "unintentional fire" from an Israeli soldier who did not realize she was a journalist, a senior IDF officer briefed reporters on Monday.

Why it matters: The findings are a shift from the IDF's initial position that it was not possible to know who shot Abu Akleh, and align with the conclusions of a U.S. probe.

  • The IDF identified the soldier who "likely fired the shot," the IDF officer said, adding, "It was a mistake and he is sorry for it.”
  • The solider in question, who was not named, "was in a closed military vehicle under heavy fire. From inside the vehicle he could only see a small area and he didn’t know he was shooting at a journalist. The soldier’s reports on the radio during the incident clearly point at a misidentification," the IDF officer said.
  • After reviewing the findings and receiving several clarifications, the chief military advocate general found that there was no suspicion of a criminal offense and elected not to open a criminal investigation into the incident, the officer said.

Flashback: Abu Akleh was killed in May while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. The 51-year-old Al Jazeera correspondent was wearing a bulletproof vest marked “press.” Her family has been demanding accountability for her death.

  • The Biden administration said in early July that Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional Israeli fire, but a ballistics test of the bullet fragment removed from her body was "inconclusive."
  • 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 that an Israeli soldier fired the fatal shot.
  • A probe conducted by the UN human rights body came to a similar conclusion.

The latest: Abu Akleh's family rejected the Israeli conclusions, claimed Israel had "murdered" her, and called on the Biden administration to follow through with its stated commitment to accountability. “Accountability requires action,” the statement said.

  • The family said the Israeli investigation “tried to obscure the truth and avoid responsibility."
  • The family added: “Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes. However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated, and disappointed."

Palestinian Presidency spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh also rejected the conclusions of the Israeli investigation and called it "another Israeli attempt to escape the responsibility for Shireen Abu Akleh’s killing."

  • He added that the Palestinian Authority will follow up on the issue with the International Criminal Court.

Behind the scenes: In recent weeks, the Biden administration pressed Israel to publish the final conclusions of the IDF investigation as soon as possible.

  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken asked Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz to conduct a review of the IDF's rules of engagement in the West Bank, saying it would be a step toward accountability in the Abu Akleh case.
  • Blinken told Gantz he thinks that either the rules of engagement weren't followed or needed to be reviewed if an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh while she wore a bulletproof vest clearly marked "press," three U.S. and Israeli sources told Axios.

But the senior IDF officer said Monday that the investigation found that there was no violation of the rules of engagement and no problem in the briefing the soldiers received before the Jenin raid.

  • “There was no situation in which an IDF soldier aimed and fired intentionally towards a person who was not involved in the fighting or towards a journalist," the IDF officer said.

What they're saying: “Our conclusion is that it is not possible to unequivocally determine from which fire Shireen Abu Akleh was killed, but it is more likely that she was shot by unintentional fire of an Israeli soldier who didn’t identify her as a journalist," the IDF officer stressed.

  • The officer claimed there were both Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants in the area from which the shots were fired.
  • Israel briefed the Biden administration in advance on the conclusions, senior Israeli officials tell Axios. On Sunday, Israeli ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog briefed State Department officials, while the Israeli Defense Ministry briefed the U.S. ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

Details: The senior IDF officer told reporters M0nday that two separate IDF investigations were conducted around the May 11 incident.

  • He added that IDF chief of staff Gen. Aviv Kohavi asked for a deeper investigation when the results were presented to him the first time.
  • The senior IDF officer said a team of experts conducted sound and imagery tests and studied the press investigations of the incident to determine from which direction the shots were fired.
  • “We know the exact locations from which every soldier fired and we have information about the locations from which Palestinian militants fired," the IDF officer said.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with the statements from the Abu Akleh family and the Palestinian Presidency.

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