The U.S. has concluded that gunfire from Israeli military positions most likely killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the State Department said Monday, adding that there was "no reason to believe" her shooting was intentional.
The bullet that killed Abu Akleh, a veteran Al Jazeera reporter, in the occupied West Bank in May was so badly damaged that a forensic analysis overseen by U.S. officials "could not reach a definitive conclusion" about its origin, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
Having been granted access to both Israeli and Palestinian investigations over the past few weeks, the U.S. Security Coordinator, the team overseeing the investigation, "concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible," Price said. The IDF, or Israel Defense Forces, is the country's military force.
The U.S. investigators "found no reason to believe that this was intentional, but rather the result of tragic circumstances" during an IDF raid on the militant group Islamic Jihad "following a series of terror attacks in Israel," the statement said.
Investigations by the United Nations and a slew of independent Western media organizations found that Israeli fire was to blame. But word from Washington, so often the mediator in the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, will be seen as significant.
The IDF said in its own statement that the source of the gunfire could not be determined, adding that it had "conclusively determined that no IDF soldier deliberately fired at Ms. Abu Akleh."
Hussein Al Sheikh, the head of the civil affairs department of the Palestinian Authority, tweeted that the Israeli "occupation" government "bears responsibility for the assassination."
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said the investigation was a "U.S.-backed whitewash." It criticized Washington in a statement for seeking to "dismiss" the killing as an accident "and not as a crime for which those responsible should be held to account."
Abu Akleh was shot dead as she was covering the raid in the West Bank on May 11. Her killing and the ensuing feud, as well as an Israeli police crackdown at her funeral, have stoked tensions between the two sides before a visit by President Joe Biden.
The Palestinians accuse the Israeli military of killing her deliberately. Israel denies that, saying Abu Akleh may have been hit by errant fire from one of its soldiers or by nearby Palestinian gunmen who it said were clashing with its forces.
Al Jazeera staff members who witnessed the incident, as well as another reporter who was wounded, have said Israeli forces fired the shots that killed their colleague.
Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or Palestinian militants in the immediate area when she was killed. All of them were wearing protective equipment that clearly identified them as members of the media.
Last month the U.N. human rights office said its investigations had found that she was killed by IDF fire and not indiscriminate shots from Palestinians, as Israel claims.
Under increasing international and domestic pressure, Israel asked the Palestinians to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh so it could perform forensic analysis to determine who fired it. The Palestinians did so only after Washington got involved, although there was disagreement about exactly what that entailed.
Palestinian officials said they had handed over the bullet to U.S. officials with assurances that Israel would not conduct the ballistics tests; Israeli officials made it clear that it would be their test with oversight by U.S. officials.
The U.S. Security Coordinator, a team made up of Defense Department officials assigned to the State Department, said in its statement that it had overseen and been granted full access to the analysis.
Washington “continues to encourage cooperation” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Price’s statement said. “We will remain engaged with Israel and the PA on next steps and urge accountability. We again offer our deepest condolences to the Abu Akleh family.”