Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank


JERUSALEM (AP) — Veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank town of Jenin early Wednesday. The broadcaster and a reporter who was wounded in the incident blamed Israeli forces.

The Israel army initially raised the possibility that Abu Akleh might have been killed by stray Palestinian fire, saying militants were also present in the area, However, army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi later stepped back from that assertion, saying that "at this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death.”

Abu Akleh, 51, was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for her coverage of the harsh realities of Israel's military occupation for the past three decades. Her death reverberated across the region and set alight social media. She reported for Al Jazeera's Arabic language channel and was also a U.S. citizen.

She was fatally shot in the head early Wednesday on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Her producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was hospitalized in stable condition after being shot in the back.

Al Jazeera accused Israel of "deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.” Palestinian journalists who were with Abu Akleh at the time said they made their presence known to Israeli soldiers, and that they did not see militants in the area.

The Israeli military said its forces came under attack with heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and that they fired back. The military said it was investigating “and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen.”

Kochavi, the army chief, said a special team had been formed to investigate.

Abu Akleh was born in Jerusalem and began working for Al Jazeera in 1997. She regularly reported from across the Palestinian territories, making her a well-known face on television screens across the Arab world.

Samoudi, who was working as her producer, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early Wednesday. He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would know that they were there.

He said a first shot missed them, then a second struck him, and a third killed Abu Akleh. He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army. He said the military’s suggestion that they were shot by militants was a “complete lie.”

The Qatar-based network, which has long had strained relations with Israel, interrupted its broadcast to announce her death. In a statement flashed on its channel, it called on the international community to "condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague.”

“We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice,” Al Jazeera said.

It aired a separate video showing Abu Akleh lying motionless on the side of a road next to a wall as another journalist crouches nearby and a man screams for an ambulance. Gunfire rings out in the background. Both reporters were wearing blue flak jackets clearly marked with the word “PRESS.”

The video did not show the source of the gunfire.

Israel said it had proposed a joint investigation and autopsy with the Palestinian Authority, which refused the offer.

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.

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 Jenin. The town, and particularly its refugee camp, has long been known as a militant bastion.

Israel, Palestine, West Bank