Palestinian Christian Shireen Abu Aqleh, 51, was a a prominent figure in Al Jazeera's Arabic news service
Jenin (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a respected veteran of the Al Jazeera network, was shot dead Wednesday as she covered an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.
The Qatar-based TV channel charged that Israeli forces deliberately and “in cold blood” shot Abu Akleh, 51, in the head during the unrest in the Jenin refugee camp.
Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said it was “likely” that “armed Palestinians – who were indiscriminately firing at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist”.
Another Al Jazeera journalist, producer Ali al-Samudi, was wounded in the incident in which both wore helmets and vests marked “Press”. He later said no Palestinian fighters were nearby, stressing that otherwise “we would not have gone into the area”.
Palestinian cameraman Mujahed al-Saadi weeps as he escorts the body of veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead during an army raid on the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp
An AFP photographer reported that Israeli forces were firing in the area and that he then saw Abu Akleh’s body lying on the ground, with no Palestinian gunmen visible at the time.
The Israeli army confirmed it had conducted its latest in a string of military operations in the flashpoint camp but firmly denied it had deliberately targeted a reporter.
“Her death is a tragedy that should not have occurred,” said Israeli army spokesman Amnon Shefler, adding that the military “would never deliberately target non-combatants”.
In a sign of her prominence in the West Bank, residents laid flowers on the roadside as the vehicle carrying her body moved towards Nablus, where an autopsy was to be carried out before her burial in her native Jerusalem.
- ‘Sad death’ -
Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was shot dead as she covered a raid on the West Bank's Jenin refugee camp
Al Jazeera said in a statement that “the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine”.
It urged the international community to hold the Israeli forces accountable for the “intentional targeting and killing”.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said the country was seeking a “joint pathological investigation into the sad death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh”.
“Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”
Map locating Jenin, in the West Bank.
Senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh said there had been no contact from Israel about any joint probe and held Israel “responsible” for Abu Akleh’s killing.
US ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides called for a “thorough investigation” into the killing of the US citizen, who joined Al Jazeera in 1997 and became a widely respected Palestinian voice in coverage of the conflict.
The Israeli army released a video showing Palestinian gunfire in the Jenin camp early Wednesday, but not in the precise spot where Abu Akleh was killed.
- Rising death toll -
Al Jazeera's Moroccan journalist Abdel Samad Nasser broadcasts a report before an image of his network colleague Shireen Abu Akleh at the Qatari news broadcaster's main headquarters in the capital Doha
The Israeli army has stepped up operations in Jenin, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in recent weeks.
Several of the suspects blamed for deadly attacks on Israelis were from the area.
Witnesses in Jenin said Wednesday that the army had been targeting the home of an Islamist operative, with an apartment’s heavy metal door blown off its hinges.
Majid Awais, a witness, told AFP that Abu Akleh “turned in panic” when she saw her colleague Samudi was shot and that she was struck by the fatal bullet moments later.
Her death came nearly a year after an Israeli air strike destroyed a Gaza building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and news agency AP.
Israel has said the building also hosted offices used by key members of the Hamas Islamist group, which controls the Israeli-blockaded Gaza strip.
Tensions have risen in recent months as Israel has grappled with a wave of attacks which has killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.
Tunisian journalists protest the death of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, in Tunis on May 11, 2022
A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.
The latest Palestinian death was an 18-year-old killed by Israeli troops during clashes near Ramallah on Wednesday. The army said its forces had used rubber bullets to suppress unrest.
The group Reporters Without Borders says seven journalists have been killed while reporting in the Palestinian territories since 2018.