U.S. concludes unintentional Israeli fire likely killed American journalist

AP file Photo / Mahmoud Illean
Israeli authorities project an image of the Israeli and U.S. flags on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City in honor of July Fourth, on Monday.

TEL AVIV – An American-led analysis of forensic and ballistic evidence, as well as the separate Israeli and Palestinian investigations, found that the bullet that killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh likely originated from an Israeli soldier, but added that there was “no reason to believe this was intentional,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Monday.

Price said that investigators concluded that the bullet which hit Abu Akleh – a longtime correspondent for Al Jazeera news who was shot on May 11 while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank city of Jenin – “was badly damaged,” preventing “a clear conclusion.” The statement sparked angry responses from her family and Palestinian officials.

The Palestinian Authority handed over the bullet to the U.S. Security Coordinator on Saturday, complying with a long-standing demand from Israel. Since the incident, Israel has claimed that without the bullet, it would not be able to determine whether Abu Akleh had been shot by an Israeli gun or by weapons from armed Palestinians in the area at the time of the shooting.

“The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 11, 2022, in Jenin, which followed a series of terrorist attacks in Israel,” the statement said, referring to a string of Palestinian attacks in Israel in recent months in which a number of the assailants hailed from Jenin and the surrounding area.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said that “the IDF investigation was unable to determine who is responsible for the tragic death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, but it was able to determine conclusively that there was no intention to harm her. Israel expresses sorrow over her death.”

IDF spokesman Ran Kochav said on the day of Abu Akleh’s killing that it was “likely” that she was killed by armed Palestinians before the military later backtracked and conceded that it was possible that an Israeli sniper could have been responsible.

The investigation, which the Israeli army said has been stalled due to the Palestinian refusal to transfer the bullet, had been looming over President Joe Biden’s July 13-16 visit to the Middle East, his first as president.

Abu Akleh’s killing has sparked outrage and has shone an international spotlight on what Palestinians and human rights activists have for years called a policy of impunity in Israel’s military.

Palestinian officials immediately called Abu Akleh’s killing an “assassination.” Last month, the Palestinian Authority published the results of its own inquiry and said it found that she was killed by a 5.56mm round fired by a Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifle, though it did not say if that model was used by either or both sides – who were exchanging fire the morning of Abu Akleh’s killing.

In response to the State Department announcement, Hussein al-Sheikh, the secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told the Palestinian news agency that officials believed the United States was looking to protect Israel. He said that, absent American support, the Palestinian Authority would continue to pursue the case in the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague.

“We will not allow attempts to conceal the truth or to have shy references in pointing the finger of accusation to Israel,” said al-Sheikh.

The Israeli group B’Tselem, which documents Israeli violations in the Palestinian territories, said in a statement that “the odds that those responsible for the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh will be held to account are all but nonexistent.”

On June 24, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Israel was the most probable source of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh. The U.N. findings – along with the investigations published by The Post, the New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN and the investigative group Bellingcat – added momentum to a growing calls for the United States to push more publicly for a thorough and transparent probe.

In June, 24 senators called for the United States to be “directly involved in investigating” the case, while Abu Akleh’s brother, Anton, said America should take it over completely from the Israeli military.

“The focus on the bullet has always been misplaced and was an attempt by the Israelis to spin the narrative in its favor,” said a statement from the Abu Akleh family.

The statement said that the family had hoped, and still hopes, that the FBI or another American authority would regard Abu Akleh’s death as grounds for a “murder investigation.”