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Calls mount for probe into reporter's killing during Israeli raid

Palestinian Christian Shireen Abu Aqleh, 51, was a a prominent figure in Al Jazeera's Arabic news service
— Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP)

Calls mounted Wednesday for an independent investigation into the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead as she covered an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.

The Qatar-based TV channel charged that Israeli forces deliberately and "in cold blood" shot Abu Akleh, 51, a Palestinian-American and a Christian, in the head during the unrest in the Jenin refugee camp.

Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who briefed reporters late Wednesday, appeared to distance himself from earlier remarks by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who had said it was "likely" that Abu Akleh was killed by stray Palestinian gunfire.

"Our initial findings from the investigation cannot indicate what gunfire was directed at Shireen and cannot exclude any option under this operational chaos", Gantz said. He said Palestinian gunmen in Jenin were firing from "multiple directions."

Children in Gaza take part in a candlelight vigil to condemn the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh

"We are not certain how she was killed," added Gantz, who called Abu Akleh's death "a serious loss."

Another Al Jazeera journalist, producer Ali al-Samudi, was wounded in the incident in which both wore helmets and vests marked "Press".

Samudi said no Palestinian fighters were nearby, stressing that otherwise "we would not have gone into the area".

- 'Turned in panic' -

Journalists escort the body of veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aqleh, who  was shot dead by Israeli troops as she covered a raid on Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank

The European Union urged an "independent" investigation while the United States' envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, demanded the killing be "transparently investigated", calls also made by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Israel has offered to participate in a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, and Gantz urged the PA to provide the army with the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.

Gantz told reporters that Israel was seeking the findings of the Palestinian autopsy, conducted in Nablus earlier Wednesday.

There was no indication on whether Palestinian officials were prepared to cooperate with Israel in an investigation.


Rayyan Ali, a forensic pathologist at Al Najah University in Nablus where the autopsy was conducted, told reporters "it is not possible to make any statement about who bears responsibility," because details of the weapon and ammunition used had not been fully examined by experts.

Abu Akleh, who joined Al Jazeera in 1997 and whose coverage of the conflict was revered across Palestinian society, will receive a full state memorial at the Palestinian presidential compound in Ramallah on Thursday.

Her was body carried through the city on Wednesday evening, with thousands chanting "thank you, dear Shireen."

The Israeli army has stepped up operations in Jenin, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in recent weeks.

Several of the suspects blamed for deadly attacks on Israelis were from the area.

A Palestinian man reacts as the body of veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is carried toward the offices of the news channel in the West Bank city of Ramallah

Witnesses in Jenin said that the Israeli army had been targeting the home of an Islamist operative, with an apartment's heavy metal door blown off its hinges.

Majid Awais, a witness, told AFP that Abu Akleh "turned in panic" when she saw her colleague Samudi was shot, and that she was struck by the fatal bullet moments later.

An AFP photographer reported that Israeli forces were firing in the area, and that he then saw Abu Akleh's body lying on the ground, with no Palestinian gunmen visible at the time.

- 'Assassinated' -

Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian during a protest condemning the death of Shireen Abu Akleh

Al Jazeera said in a statement that "the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera's correspondent in Palestine".

Her death came nearly a year after an Israeli air strike destroyed a Gaza building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and news agency AP.

Tensions have risen in recent months as Israel has grappled with a wave of attacks which has killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.

A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

In the latest unrest targeting Israeli forces, a West Bank Palestinian attempted to stab a police officer in Jerusalem's Old City late Wednesday.

Officers opened fire, leaving the attacker with serious injuries, police said.

The latest Palestinian death was an 18-year-old killed by Israeli troops during clashes near Ramallah on Wednesday. The army said its forces had used rubber bullets to suppress unrest.