London (Middle East Eye), May 11 (12/05) Israeli forces shot and killed a senior Al Jazeera Arabic correspondent during an army raid on Wednesday in Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Qatar-based news channel and Palestinian Health Ministry said.
Wearing a press vest, Palestinian Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, was shot in the head during her coverage of the incursion and was transferred to Ibn Sina hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Another journalist, Ali Asmoadi, an Al Jazeera producer, was wounded by a gun shot and is in a stable condition.
Middle East Eye contributor Shatha Hanaysha said she and a group of six journalists, including Abu Akleh, were together when they came under fire from Israeli snipers.
The group of journalists, there to cover the raid, came under fire at the main entrance to Jenin refugee camp, near the main roundabout.
There was a gunfight in the alleyways of the camp, but this area is far from the roundabout – fighters don’t go there, because there is no cover – and far from the house of the person Israeli forces wanted to arrest.
Meanwhile, Aljazeera reported that Israeli forces raided Abu Akleh’s house in occupied East Jerusalem where mourners were gathering. They confiscated Palestinian flags and prevented the playing of nationalistic songs, the news channel said. Footage seen by MEE showed friends and family members chanting against the soldiers and asking them to leave.
Al Jazeera said multiple eyewitnesses confirmed Abu Akleh was shot shortly after arriving in Jenin refugee camp and that there had been no fighting in the area.
The Israeli army confirmed that it had conducted an operation early on Wednesday in the Jenin refugee camp, a stronghold of Palestinian armed groups in the northern West Bank.
It said that there was an exchange of fire between its troops and Palestinian fighters and that it is investigating whether “journalists were wounded, possibly by Palestinian gunfire”.
The Israeli military and Israel’s US embassy tweeted a video of Palestinian gunmen in Jenin firing down an alley, suggesting they were responsible. However Israeli NGO B’Tselem visited the scene where that footage was taken, and said it was impossible for Abu Akleh to have been hit from there.
Later on Wednesday, the Israeli army backtracked from its initial claims that Abu Akleh might have been killed by Palestinian fire. The army’s chief of staff said in a statement that “at the moment it is not possible to determine from which fire Abu Akleh was killed”.
Al Jazeera Media Network condemned the “blatant murder” of Abu Akleh, calling it a “heinous crime, through which it is intended to prevent the media from fulfilling its message”.
“We hold the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the killing of the late colleague Shireen,” Al Jazeera said in a statement, urging the international community to hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for their “intentional targeting and killing” of Abu Akleh.
‘They’re armed with cameras’
Israeli military spokesperson Ran Kochav told Army Radio that “even if soldiers shot at – or, God forbid, hurt – someone who was not involved, this happened in battle, during a firefight, where this Palestinian is with the shooters. So this thing can happen.”
Kochav described Abu Akleh as “filming and working for a media outlet amidst armed Palestinians. They’re armed with cameras, if you’ll permit me to say so”.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he holds Israeli troops “fully responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responded that Abbas “is making baseless accusations against Israel”, adding that “according to the information we currently have, there’s a considerable chance that Palestinian gunmen who were firing recklessly caused the journalist’s saddening death”.
Bennett said that “we back our fighters”, but reiterated the call for a joint investigation with the PA.
US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides tweeted: “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of [Abu Akleh’s] death”, pointing out that the journalist was a US citizen.
Husam Zomlot, the head of the Palestinian mission to the UK, tweeted: “Shireen was most prominent Palestinian journalist and a close friend. Now we will hear the ‘concerns’ of the UK govt & the international community.”
Lolwah Alkhater, Qatar’s deputy foreign minister, condemned the killing of Abu Akleh in a tweet and called for an end to “state-sponsored Israeli terrorism”. Qatar’s foreign ministry called it an “assassination“.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli forces shot dead an 18-year-old Palestinian near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said.
Thaer Khalim Muslet al-Yazouri was shot in the heart in Al-Bireh, the ministry said. An Israeli army spokesperson confirmed to the AFP that troops had “fired rubber bullets”.
‘Icon of Palestinian press’
Abu Akleh was one of the most prominent journalists in the Arab world.
She joined Al Jazeera in 1997 and covered almost all major events in Israel and Palestine, most notably the Second Intifada between 2000-2005 and the Israeli wars on the Gaza Strip.
Tributes poured in after her death was announced.
“Shireen was an icon for Palestinian women journalists and an icon for the Palestinian press,” said Kholoud Assaf, head of the women journalists committee at the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate.
“She was an inspiration in Palestine and the Arab world… Today we lost one of the pillars of our press,” Assaf told MEE.
“Shireen entered every Palestinian house in her years of coverage with Al Jazeera,” said Walid Al-Omari, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, speaking on live air. “She showed the truth with integrity. Everyone knew her. This is a huge shock for everyone,” said Omari, who worked closely with Abu Akleh over many years, his voice breaking with emotion.