The United States has launched an investigation into the killing of veteran Palestinian American reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel has said, vowing not to cooperate with a probe it condemned as a “mistake.”
Abu Akleh was shot dead while reporting on an Israeli military raid in the occupied West Bank in May, sparking global outrage and calls for a criminal probe. The U.S. and others found that Israeli forces likely fired the fatal shots, but the Biden administration had stopped short of a full investigation despite pressure from her family, the United Nations and some Democratic lawmakers.
That now appears to have changed, drawing the ire of the Israeli government and threatening to strain ties with the key U.S. ally as its most right-wing government in history prepares to take office.
“The decision taken by the US Justice Department to conduct an investigation into the tragic passing of Shireen Abu Akleh is a mistake,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a tweet on Monday. “We will not cooperate with an external investigation, and will not enable intervention to internal investigations.”
Gantz, who is set to leave his post following elections earlier this month that vaulted Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power, was defense minister when Abu Akleh was killed.
A Justice Department spokesman had no comment when reached by NBC News, and no details were available about whether an investigation had begun or might begin and what it would entail, nor what the implications might be. An FBI probe into Israeli actions would be a rare, if not unprecedented, step.
Abu Akleh’s family welcomed the news.
“We’re encouraged by news that the United States opened a criminal investigation into the killing of our dear Shireen,” the family said in a statement. “It is what the United States should do when a U.S. citizen is killed abroad, especially when they were killed, like Shireen, by a foreign military.”
“We hope that the United States will use all of the investigative tools at its disposal to get answers about Shireen’s killing and hold those who are responsible for this atrocity accountable.”
Abu Akleh had reported from the Middle East for more than 25 years. She was well-known as a veteran on-air correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel. Her death prompted an outpouring of grief from Palestinians around the world and a funeral attended by thousands in Jerusalem.
For months President Joe Biden resisted calls from a group of 24 U.S. senators for “a thorough and transparent investigation under U.S. auspices” into Abu Akleh’s death.
Both the United Nations human rights office and the U.S. carried out independent investigations and concluded that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was fired by Israeli forces. Washington said there was “no reason to believe” the shooting was intentional.
In September, the Israeli military said one of its soldiers likely killed her in errant fire but announced it would not launch a probe into the incident, meaning neither the soldier nor anyone in his line of command would be held accountable.
Initially, Israeli officials had suggested that Abu Akleh may have been shot by armed Palestinians, a story dismissed by Palestinians and witnesses.
Journalists who were with her, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces fired upon them even though they were clearly identifiable as reporters. The Israelis later backtracked on their claims but maintained there may have been Palestinian gunman in the area.
More than 130 Palestinians in east Jerusalem and the West Bank have been killed this year, making 2022 the deadliest year since 2006. Israel says most of those killed have been militants, but local youths protesting the raids as well as people not involved in the fighting have also been killed.
A series of Palestinian shooting attacks that have killed a number of Israelis in recent weeks. A knife-wielding Palestinian killed two Israelis in a stabbing Tuesday at a West Bank settlement, then stole a car as he tried to flee the scene and crashed it on a nearby highway, killing a third Israeli, officials said.