The White House on Wednesday condemned the killing of an American journalist during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, and demanded an investigation into the death of Al Jazeera’s Shireen Abu Akleh.
Akleh, 51, was a well-known Palestinian television reporter who also had U.S. citizenship.
Al Jazeera quickly blamed Israeli security forces for her death during a raid on the West Bank town of Jenin.
Qatar, where the TV station is headquartered, claimed Israeli forces ‘shot her in the face.’
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the killing and said prosecuting anyone responsible for attacks on journalists was of ‘paramount importance.’
‘We strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin today and we extend our deepest condolences to her family,’ she siad.
‘We call for a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances of her death.
‘Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance.’
Al Jazeera said Shireen Abu Akleh was shot ‘deliberately’ and ‘in cold blood’ by Israeli troops while wearing a press vest and helmet during a raid in the West Bank
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the killing as she she spoke to reporters aboard Air Force One on Wednesday
The State Department also demanded a thorough, immediate investigation and said those responsible for killing the American journalist ‘must be held responsible’
Earlier State Department spokesman Ned Price demanded accountability for those responsible.
‘We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank,’ he said.
‘The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable.
‘Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere.’
Another Palestinian journalist, Ali Al Samoudi, working for the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper, was wounded but in stable condition, according to the Palestinian health ministry.
The Qatar-based broadcaster blamed Israeli forces, saying she was shot ‘deliberately’ and ‘in cold blood’ by Israeli troops while wearing a press Pavest and helmet.
In a statement that flashed on its channel, it called on the international community to ‘condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and assassinating our colleague, Shireen Abu Akleh.’
The IDF responded that Palestinians, who were firing indiscriminately, had claimed to have hit someone, yet no IDF soldier was hit.
‘She may have been shot by Palestinians,’ IDF spokesperson Ran Kochav said. ‘She was very close to them. But if soldiers were responsible, we will have to apologise if a mistake was made.’
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett however said it was ‘likely’ that Palestinian gunfire killed her.
The body of slain Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, lies on the ground while her colleague, Shatha Hanaysheh, covers her mouth in shock as firing continues
Well-known Palestinian television personality Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, (pictured) from Jerusalem, was killed during a raid on the occupied West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday
A young man from the area braves what seems to be continual sniper fire to attend to Abu Akleh’s body
Journalists escort the body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was shot dead by Israeli troops as she covered a raid on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp this morning
Journalists mourn over the body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh. In video footage of the incident, Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked with the word ‘PRESS’
A medical worker covers the body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. Al Jazeera put the blame for her death at the feet of Israeli security forces, who said it is ‘investigating the event and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen’
‘Abu Akleh was wearing a flack jacket so I think she was the person that the Palestinians referred to, but I cannot be 100% sure,’ he said.
The Palestinian Authority had rejected the offer of a joint investigation with Israel he added.
‘I am not sure we will be able to definitively know the truth without their cooperation,’ he said.
In video footage of the incident, Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked with the word ‘PRESS.’
Journalist Mujahed Al-Saadi, who accompanied Abu Akleh to cover the Jenin raid, told Reuters that they were being ‘targeted’ by the Israeli army after having identified themselves as press.
‘I turned and found Shireen on the ground in the first few seconds. I found Shatha [Hanaysheh] shielding herself by a tree and screaming with the shooting, and we were telling each other we were being shot at,’ he said.
‘The shooting continued for more than 3 minutes on the teams that were there, Ali was injured, he was able to cross the street and get to a point of safety, and the shooting continued.
The Qatar-based broadcaster blamed Israeli forces, saying Abu Akleh was shot ‘deliberately’ and ‘in cold blood’ by Israeli troops while wearing a press vest and helmet
‘The last person that the sniper saw was taking refuge under a tree, our colleague Shatha Hanaysheh, the shooting towards her continued while she was standing under the tree, and we could not provide first aid to Shireen.
‘The boys came to us, the ones that were in the street, who were trying to pull Shireen out, were also shot at, whenever any one moved forward they were shot at.’
The Israeli army confirmed that its forces had carried out an operation in a Jenin refugee camp on Wednesday morning, in a region known to be a stronghold of Palestinian armed groups in the northern West Bank.
It firmly denied, however, that it had deliberately targeted journalists.
‘The (army) of course does not aim at journalists,’ a military official told AFP. ‘There is an ongoing inquiry into this event. We offered and want to conduct a joint investigation with the Palestinians.’
The army said that during its operation in the camp, ‘massive fire was shot toward Israeli forces by tens of armed Palestinian gunmen’.
People in the camp ‘also hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers, endangering their lives. The soldiers responded with fire toward the sources of the fire and explosive devices. Hits were identified.’
The Israeli Foreign Ministry put out a short video on Twitter of IDF soldiers firing and a text over reading: ‘Palestinian terrorists, firing indiscriminately, are likely to have hit Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla’.
Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said it had proposed to the Palestinian Authority a joint pathological investigation into the reporter’s death.
‘Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,’ he tweeted.
Shireen Abu Akleh’s press colleague, Shatha Hanaysheh, is consoled by another colleague after the raid on a refugee camp in Jenin, in the north West Bank
Mourners and masked armed men carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, shot and killed this morning during an Israeli raid in Jenin
Shireen Abu Aqleh was well known across Palestine and the occupied territories, having joined Al Jazeera in 1997 and appeared on television regularly reported from across the Palestinian territories.
The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security matters, condemned what it said was a ‘shocking crime’ committed by Israeli forces.
Abu Akleh, 51, was born in Jerusalem. She began working for Al-Jazeera in 1997 and regularly reported on-camera from across the Palestinian territories.
Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks amid a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, many of them carried out by Palestinians from in and around Jenin.
The town, and particularly its refugee camp, has long been known as a militant bastion.
Israelis have long been critical of Al-Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely.
Another Al-Jazeera reporter, Givara Budeiri, was briefly detained last year during a protest in Jerusalem and treated for a broken hand, which her employer blamed on rough treatment by police.
Relations between Israeli forces and the media, especially Palestinian journalists, is strained.
A number of Palestinian reporters have been wounded by rubber-coated bullets or tear gas while covering demonstrations in the West Bank.
A Palestinian journalist in Gaza was shot and killed by Israeli forces while filming violent protests along the Gaza frontier in 2018.
Another journalist working for a local Gaza radio station, who was shot on the same day at Gaza frontier, died a week later
In November 2018, Associated Press reporter Rashed Rashid was covering a protest near the Gaza frontier when he was shot in the left ankle, apparently by Israeli fire.
Rashid was wearing protective gear that clearly identified him as a journalist, and was standing with a crowd of other journalists some 600 meters (660 yards) away from the Israeli border when he was hit. The military has never acknowledged the shooting.
During last year’s war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building in Gaza City housing the offices of The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.
Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was hurt in the strike. Israel said Hamas was using the building as a command center but has provided no evidence.