Monday, December 5, 2022

US to open investigation into al Jazeera journalist killing

The United States has informed the Israeli authorities that it decided to open its own investigation into Israle's killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, several Israeli and US media outlets reported, citing unidentified sources.

The US Justice Department informed its counterpart in Israel that the FBI is opening a probe into the incident, according to reports.

Abu Akleh was fatally shot by Israeli forces while covering a raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin in May. The Al Jazeera correspondent, who was 51, was a US citizen and one of the best-known reporters on the conflict in the Arab World.

The scope of a US investigation, as well as what consequences could ensue, remain unclear.

But Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel would not cooperate with an external investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.

“The decision taken by the US Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the tragic passing of Shireen Abu Akleh, is a mistake,” Gantz wrote on Twitter.

“I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the [Israeli army’s] soldiers, that we will not cooperate with an external investigation, and will not enable intervention to internal investigations,” he added.

The reports on Monday come less than two weeks after Israeli voters favoured a right-wing coalition that will bring former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power.

A US probe into the killing would mark an about-face from the initial stance of President Joe Biden’s administration.

Despite numerous calls by US legislators for a Washington-led investigation, the US State Department previously ruled out opening an inquiry into the incident. Instead, US officials have stressed that Israel can investigate its own troops.

Abu Akleh’s killing sparked international outrage and calls for justice by press freedom advocates.

Dozens of US legislators, including some staunch Israel supporters, signed on to letters urging Biden and his top aides to seek accountability in the case. One of the letters called for an FBI probe.

In September, the Israeli government announced it would not conduct a criminal investigation into the incident after releasing a public assessment stating that there is a “high possibility” that one of its soldiers shot Abu Akleh but that it was accidental.

Video footage, several witnesses and multiple investigations by independent media outlets showed that there were no armed Palestinians in the area where Abu Akleh and other journalists were standing before Israeli soldiers started firing at them.

After calling for “accountability” for months and saying the journalist’s killers should be prosecuted, the Biden administration changed its tone after the Israeli statement in September, and the public US push for accountability became muted.

Instead, the State Department urged Israel to review its rules of engagement to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future — a demand later publicly rejected by Israeli leaders.

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