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Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh shot dead while covering Israeli military operation in West Bank


By Hadas Gold, Abeer Salman and Amir Tal, CNN

Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday.

The Palestinian health ministry said she was shot in the head by a live bullet, and confirmed her death shortly afterwards. Abu Akleh’s producer, Ali Al-Samudi, was also shot and is in stable condition, the ministry said.

Al Jazeera has accused Israeli security forces of deliberately targeting and killing Abu Akleh, 51 — one of the Arab world’s most prominent journalists — and called on the international community to condemn the killing and hold Israel accountable.

The circumstances surrounding her death are unclear. Three eyewitnesses told CNN that the journalists were shot by Israeli troops and that there were no Palestinian militants next to the journalists at the time.

“The Israeli army shot us,” said Samudi, the producer who was shot and injured. “There was no Palestinian gunman in the place.”

The Israel Defense Forces said its security forces had been operating in the area “to arrest suspects in terrorist activities,” and both Palestinian suspects and Israeli forces were firing at the time.

“As part of the activity in the Jenin refugee camp, suspects fired heavily at the force and threw explosives. The force responded by firing. Hits were detected,” the IDF said. “The possibility that journalists were hit, possibly by Palestinian gunfire, is being investigated. The event is being examined.”

In a subsequent statement, IDF Chief of Staff, Major General Aviv Kochavi seemed to soften that stance, saying: “Palestinians fired extensively at our forces, firing wildly and indiscriminately in every direction. Unlike the Palestinians, IDF soldiers carry out professional and selective firing … at this stage it is not possible to determine from which shot she was hit.”

Kochavi added that a special team would be investigating the incident.

The Israeli military has stepped up its operations in the West Bank after a series of attacks targeting Israelis has left 18 people dead. Several of the ​attackers were from the Jenin area.

Before Kochavi’s statement about it being “not possible” to determine who shot Abu Akleh Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett appeared to point the finger at Palestinian crossfire.

“According to the information we’ve gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were indiscriminately firing at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” the prime minister said in a statement Wednesday.

Israeli officials, including the IDF and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released a video showing a man firing down an alley and people running in the Jenin Refugee Camp, shouting about a soldier being hit.

“No IDF soldier was injured, which increases the possibility that Palestinian terrorists were the ones who shot the journalist,” Bennett said.

CNN has geolocated and verified multiple videos from the scene of the shooting. They reveal Israeli military firing in the streets nearby and armed Palestinians. While the videos are clearly filmed in the morning, CNN cannot be certain what date they were filmed, and whether they were filmed before or after the shooting of Abu Akleh.

​Video directly after Abu Akleh’s shooting show she was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest with “press” written on it when she was shot.

Another journalist who was covering Wednesday in Jenin told CNN that Abu Akleh and other journalists made themselves known to Israeli forces in the area before she and Samudi were shot.

“I saw Shireen on the ground,” said journalist Mujahed al-Saadi. “We tried to rescue Shireen and we couldn’t.

“The occupation targeted Shireen while wearing a helmet, the injury was under the ear,” he added. “Shireen fell while she was wearing press (gear) and even with that the people who tried to save her were shot at, the targeting was clear against Shireen and against us as journalistic teams.”

The US ambassador to Israel called for an investigation.

“Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh of @AJArabic @AJEnglish,” said Ambassador Tom Nides. “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.”

Nides is married to CNN executive Virginia Moseley, who is senior vice president of US newsgathering.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price called for an “immediate and thorough” investigation into the killing saying that “those responsible must be held accountable.”

“We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank,” Price tweeted Wednesday.

“Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere,” he added.

In response to the shooting, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter that his government had offered to conduct a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation, adding: “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”

Tributes started pouring in for Abu Akleh as news of her death spread.

Her colleague, Nida Ibrahim, said she was a “very well respected journalist.”

“As you can imagine, this is a shock to the journalists who have been working with her,” Ibrahim said, in tears.

Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based, condemned Abu Akleh’s killing, accusing Israel of “assassinating” her in a statement by the Qatari foreign ministry.

“The State of Qatar condemns in the strongest terms the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli occupation forces…and the injury of Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi,” a statement said.

“Qatar considers [this] a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and a blatant infringement on freedom of media…and the right of people to obtain information,” the statement added.

Al Jazeera is funded in part by the Qatari government and its main offices are in the capital Doha.

Abu Akleh had reported about the plight of Palestinians under Israeli occupation for over two and a half decades. She was born and raised in Jerusalem and belonged to a Christian family, according to Bir Zeit University, where she was a teacher.

She joined Al Jazeera when it was established in 1997, at the age of 26, and became the face of Palestinian coverage for millions of Arab households.

“Every house … inside Palestine or outside of Palestine, is mourning Shireen because she is our voice to the world,” said Terry Bullata, a friend and former schoolmate of Abu Akleh. “She is the voice of our suffering under the occupation. She is the voice of our aspiration for freedom.”

In a video posted on Al Jazeera YouTube earlier this year to celebrate the channel’s 25th anniversary, Abu Akleh said, “In difficult times, I overcame fear. It may be difficult to change reality, but at least I managed to bring that voice to the world.”

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