A Palestinian investigation into the shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh has concluded that she was deliberately killed by Israeli forces as she tried to flee, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has announced.
The conclusion echoed the results of a preliminary investigation announced nearly two weeks ago and was widely expected. Israel rejected the findings, with the defence minister, Benny Gantz, calling them, “a blatant lie.”
Abu Aqleh, a veteran Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera’s Arabic service, was shot in the head on 11 May during an Israeli military raid in Jenin, a city in the occupied West Bank.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli fire. Israel has said she was shot during a battle between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants, adding that only a ballistic analysis of the bullet – which is held by the Palestinian Authority (PA) – and the soldiers’ guns can determine who fired the fatal shot.
Announcing the results of his investigation at a news conference in Ramallah, the Palestinian attorney general, Akram al-Khateeb, said he had determined there were no militants in the immediate area around Abu Aqleh.
“The only shooting was by the occupation forces, with the aim of killing,” he said.
Abu Aqleh was among a group of journalists wearing helmets and protective vests marked “press”. Khateeb said the army saw the journalists and knew they were journalists.
He accused Israel of shooting Abu Aqleh “directly and deliberately” as she tried to escape. He also repeated the Palestinian position that the bullet would not be handed over to the Israelis for study, adding that it been decided not even to show images “to deprive [Israel] of a new lie”.
Khateeb said his investigation was based on interviews with witnesses, an inspection of the scene and a forensic medical report.
In a speech later on Thursday, Lt Gen Aviv Kohavi, the chief of general staff of the Israel Defence Forces, said it was impossible to know who fired the bullet and once again called on the Palestinians to cooperate to “get to the bottom” of what happened.
“But there is one thing that can be determined with certainty,” he said. “No soldier fired intentionally at a journalist. We investigated that. We checked it. That is the conclusion. There is no other.”
Israel denies targeting journalists and has offered two possible scenarios, saying Abu Aqleh was either shot by Palestinian militants who were firing recklessly at an Israeli army convoy or that she was hit by Israeli gunfire aimed at a nearby militant. The military has identified the rifle that may have been used in that scenario, but says it needs to test the bullet to make any final determination.
An AP reconstruction of events has lent support to witnesses who say she was shot by Israeli troops, even though she was wearing a helmet and vest that clearly identified her as media. But the reconstruction said it was impossible to reach a conclusive finding without further forensic analysis.
Palestinian witnesses said there were no militants or clashes anywhere near Abu Aqleh. The only known militants in the area were on the other side of the convoy, about 300 meters from her position.
They did not have a direct line of sight, unlike the convoy itself, which was about 200 meters away on a long straight road.
Israel has publicly called for a joint investigation with the PA, including US participation, and has asked the PA to hand over the bullet for testing. But the US Department of State said on Wednesday it had received no formal request for assistance from either side two weeks after Abu Aqleh’s death.
The PA has refused to cooperate with Israel, saying Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its own conduct. Rights groups say Israel has a poor record of investigating when security forces shoot Palestinians, with cases often languishing for months or years before being quietly closed.
Hussein al-Sheikh, a top Palestinian official, said Thursday’s report would be shared with the US administration. Copies would also be delivered to Abu Aqleh’s family and to Al Jazeera, he said.
The Palestinians say they will also share their results with international parties, including the international criminal court, which launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes last year. Israel has rejected that inquiry as being biased against it and is not cooperating with it.
The severe distrust means the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into Abu Aqleh’s death are unfolding separately, with neither likely to accept any conclusions reached by the other.