U.N. office points to Israel in Al Jazeera reporter’s death

Slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is depicted in a poster at right, near murals of George Floyd, left, a Black American killed by police in Minneapolis in 2020, and Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, center, on Israel’s controversial separation barrier in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on Sunday.

VGENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights office said Friday that veteran Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh and her crew were hit by “seemingly well-aimed bullets” fired from the direction of Israeli troops and called for a criminal probe into her death last month.

Abu Akleh, a prominent Palestinian-American reporter, was shot and killed on May 11 while covering an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin. Israel denies targeting her and says she may have been hit by Palestinian gunfire.

A spokeswoman for U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said her office conducted “monitoring” — and not a full investigation — in which it gathered information from witnesses, experts and official communications, as well as photos, video and audio material from the scene.

Its findings suggest the shots that killed Abu Akleh and wounded a colleague “came from Israeli security forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians.”

“We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists,” said rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani.

She said it was “deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation.” Shamdasani said the office’s monitoring could not determine “intent” in the case, and only a criminal investigation could do that.

Israel has long rejected the findings of U.N. bodies, accusing them of bias. Defense Minister Benny Gantz said only a thorough, ballistic analysis of the bullet — which is held by the Palestinian Authority — could determine whether it was shot by Israeli troops or Palestinian militants.

An Associated Press reconstruction of the shooting found that Israeli troops likely fired the fatal shot but that a firm conclusion was not possible without more evidence. Subsequent investigations by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post also found that Israeli troops had likely fired the fatal shot.

Israel has adamantly denied allegations from Al Jazeera and the Palestinian Authority that Abu Akleh was deliberately targeted. Israeli authorities say they have not launched a criminal probe because they have not yet determined who fired the fatal shot.

The PA, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and cooperates with Israel on security matters, has refused to hand over the bullet. It has rejected any Israeli role in the investigation, accusing it of trying to conceal its responsibility.

The U.N. rights office said Abu Akleh and crew had moved slowly to “make their presence visible to the Israeli forces,” who were deployed around 200 meters (yards) away along a straight, narrow road.

“Several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards (the reporters) from the direction of the Israeli security forces,” said Shamdasani. A single bullet killed Abu Akleh “instantly” and another wounded her colleague, Ali Samoudi.

The AP found that the closest confirmed presence of Palestinian militants was on the other side of the Israeli forces, another 100 meters or so away, and they did not have a line of sight to the reporters.

A wave of Palestinian attacks earlier this year that targeted Israelis killed 19 people. Israel has carried out near-daily raids across the West Bank that it says are aimed at preventing more attacks. Many of the attackers came from Jenin, which has been a focus of those operations.

Dozens of Palestinians have been killed during those operations, most of whom are alleged to have opened fire on Israeli forces or hurled stones or firebombs at them. The dead also include two apparent passers-by.