Bennett says he expects PA’s ‘full cooperation’ in probe of reporter’s death
Responding to the Palestinian Authority rejecting Israel’s request for a joint investigation into the death of Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Thursday that the PA was hindering efforts to reach “the truth.”
“Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority at this stage is preventing any possibility for a joint investigation or even access to the fundamental findings required to reach the truth,” Bennett said, apparently referring to the bullet that killed the veteran journalist, which could be the key to learning who was responsible for her death.
“I expect full, open and transparent cooperation,” he said, adding, “I also hope that the Palestinian Authority will not take any actions meant to obstruct the investigation or compromise its due process in a way that will prevent us from reaching the truth.”
Abu Akleh, 51, was killed by gunfire to her neck Wednesday morning while covering clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen during an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has accused Israel of her “execution,” vowing to take the matter to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Israeli officials have declared that it is too soon to determine who fired the bullet that killed her. Defense Minister Benny Gantz was quoted telling foreign reporters on Wednesday night that it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her,” or fire from “our side.”
Israel, meanwhile, has been urging the PA to share autopsy findings crucial for investigating the circumstances that led to the incident.
IDF chief Aviv Kohavi has expressed sorrow for Abu Akleh’s death, calling for “a special team that will clarify the facts and present them in full and as soon as possible.”
Other Israeli officials have employed a harsher tone, claiming that the Al Jazeera reporter was “likely” hit by Palestinian bullets.
Bennett made his remarks Thursday while announcing the formation of a civil national guard.
“The terrorists who set out to kill civilians did not conduct investigations. They only had the clear purpose of killing Israelis,” he said, addressing the current terror wave that has killed 19 Israelis since mid-March.
Earlier Thursday, Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs commissioner Hussein al-Sheikh said on Twitter that the PA would hold an independent investigation into Abu Akleh’s death.
“Israel requested a joint investigation and the handing over of the bullet that assassinated the journalist Shireen, and we refused that, and we affirmed that our investigation would be completed independently, and we will inform her family, America, Qatar and all official authorities of the results of the investigation,” the Palestinian official wrote, adding that “all indications, evidence and witnesses confirm her assassination by Israeli special units.”
At a state memorial for Abu Akleh held at the presidential palace in Ramallah attended by thousands, Abbas reiterated that the PA would not participate in a joint investigation, also repeating the unproven claim that Israel was responsible for the death of the journalist.
“They committed the crime and we do not trust them,” he said, adding that the PA will instead “turn immediately to the International Criminal Court to prosecute the criminals.”
“We hold the Israeli occupation authorities totally responsible for her killing,” Abbas said. “This crime cannot go unpunished.”
Responding to the allegations, an unnamed Israeli official cited by Army Radio said: “Those who have nothing to hide do not refuse to cooperate.”
An initial autopsy of Abu Akleh’s body by Palestinian coroners found that it was “not possible” to tell whether she was killed by Israeli or Palestinian gunfire at this point.
“The bullet that entered her body is in our possession and has been taken to the lab for further analysis,” said the head coroner, Dr. Ryan al-Ali of the Pathological Institute at a-Najah University in Nablus.
Al-Ali emphasized that the findings were only preliminary and that it could not be definitively determined from how far away the bullet was shot, but that it was not from close range.
He also said that Abu Akleh died from the bullet wound itself, and not from loss of blood or any other injury.
According to a report by Channel 12, the bullet in question is a 5.56×45mm NATO round, which is used by both Israeli troops and Palestinian terrorists for weapons, including M16 and M4 assault rifles.
Meanwhile, an initial, internal IDF probe reportedly found that though Abu Akleh was likely standing near armed terrorists, Israeli troops did not fire in her direction.
The troops from the elite Duvdvan unit have said that they did not see Abu Akleh or fire at her, the Walla news site reported, adding that troops responded with precise gunfire, which was determined by the number of rounds fired and their location.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Wednesday in a briefing held for foreign journalists that he hoped to hold “not just a military debriefing but a full-scale investigation on our side to include a forensic analysis and process,” which he said was “very important.”
“I must emphasize that the State of Israel and the defense establishment, including the IDF, value human life above all, and we place great importance on freedom of press, on your work, as much as possible to ensure the security of the journalists who are operating on the ground,” he added.
Abu Akleh is to be buried in Jerusalem on Friday.