Senior Catholic in Israel condemns police actions at Shireen Abu Aqleh funeral

The top Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land has condemned the Israeli police beating of mourners carrying the casket of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, accusing the authorities of violating human rights and disrespecting the Catholic church.

Latin patriarch Pierbattista Pizzaballa told reporters that Friday’s incident, broadcast around the world, was a “disproportionate use of force” against a large crowd of people waving Palestinian flags as they proceeded from the hospital to a nearby Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City. The attack drew worldwide condemnation and added to the shock and outrage over the death of Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) operation in the occupied West Bank.

The police attack, Pizzaballa told reporters, “is a severe violation of international norms and regulations, including the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed also in a public space.”

There was no immediate Israeli response.

Israel and the Palestinians are locked in a war of narratives over Abu Akleh’s killing. The reporter, a Palestinian-American, a Catholic and a 25-year veteran of the satellite channel, was shot on Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp, while wearing a blue vest clearly marked “Press”. Abu Akleh was a household name across the Arab world, known for documenting the hardship of Palestinian life under Israeli rule.

Palestinian officials and witnesses, including journalists who were with her, say she was killed by army fire. The military, after initially saying Palestinian gunmen might have been responsible, later backtracked and said it was not clear who had fired the deadly bullet.

The United States and United Nations are among the many critics of the police crackdown at the funeral.

Israeli police say they agreed on funeral arrangements ahead of time with Abu Akleh’s family, and that a crowd of mourners violated that agreement by marching with the coffin, instead of driving with it, and shouting nationalistic slogans.

But Abu Akleh’s brother, Anton, disputed those claims. He said Monday that the family had given the funeral arrangements to Israeli police.

Israeli police launched an investigation into the conduct of the officers who attacked the mourners, almost causing the pallbearers to drop the casket.

Nel frattempo, Israel and the Palestinians have continued to argue over the investigation into the shooting.

Israel has asked to examine the bullet, saying it must be analysed by ballistics experts before any firm conclusions are reached. Palestinian officials have refused, saying they don’t trust Israel. Human rights groups says Israel has a poor record of investigating wrongdoing by its security forces.

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