by Joseph Cross | The Associated Press
Jenin, West Bank – Who killed Shirin Abu Akleh?
Nearly two weeks after the death of a veteran Palestinian-American reporter for Al Jazeera, a reconstruction by the Associated Press supports claims by both Palestinian officials and Abu Aklah’s aides that the bullet that bit him came from an Israeli gun. Was.
Any conclusive answer is likely to prove elusive due to serious mistrust between the two sides, each of whom has potentially significant evidence.
Several videos and photographs taken on the morning of May 11 show an Israeli convoy standing on a narrow road from Abu Aqleh, with clear vision. They show journalists and other spectators taking cover in real time from bullets fired from the direction of the convoy.
The only confirmed presence of Palestinian militants was on the other side of the convoy, about 300 meters (yards) away, mostly separated from Abu Aqaleh by buildings and walls. Israel says there was at least one terrorist among the convoy and journalists, but did not provide any evidence or indicate the location of the shooter. Palestinian eyewitnesses say there were no terrorists in the area and that there was no gunfight until the attack on Abu Aqleh and the wounding of another reporter.
Those witnesses say they have no doubt that it was Israeli soldiers who killed Abu Akle, who is now celebrated as a martyr for both journalistic and Palestinian causes. The Israeli military says he was killed in a complicated gunfight between soldiers and militants, and only a complete investigation – including a forensic analysis of the bullet – can prove who fired the fatal bullet.
The Palestinians have refused to hand over the bullet or cooperate with Israel in any way in the investigation, but say they will share the results of their investigation with any other party.
Abu Akleh’s death has further heightened Middle East tensions amid a wave of violence and has raised new concerns over the safety of journalists covering Israel’s nearly 55-year military occupation of the West Bank, which the Palestinians call their future. as the main part of the state.
Associated Press reporters visit the site where Abu Akleh was killed on the edge of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, as well as the scene of a close fight with Israeli forces captured on video shared by Israel.
Interviews with five Palestinian eyewitnesses confirm an analysis by the Dutch-based Bellingcat research group that showed Israeli forces were closer to Abu Aqleh and had better vision. The group, which specializes in the geographic location of events in war zones by analyzing photos and videos shared online, pinpointed the location of the convoy on a narrow road from where Abu Aqleh was killed.
road and convoy
Journalists accompanying Abu Akleh say that when they arrived at the scene, there was peace, there were no clashes or militants in the surrounding area. Genin’s Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi said he called people inside the camp to find out what was happening.
They then proceeded from an open area to a long, narrow road sloping and toward a group of concrete buildings where an Israeli army convoy stood about 200 meters away. Each reporter was wearing a helmet and a blue vest, labeled “PRESS” in capital letters.
“We stepped out into the open so they could see us,” Samoudi told the Associated Press. “They didn’t indicate that we should go, so we went slowly, running about 20 meters ahead.”
Shata Hanaisheh, a local photographer, said they stayed there for 5 to 10 minutes, talking and even laughing in front of the soldiers. A video capturing the first shot backs up his account.
Samoudi said that the soldiers fired a warning shot, causing him to duck and run backwards. The second bullet hit his back. Abu Akleh was shot in the head and appears to have died instantly, with Hanaisheh taking refuge on the other side of a tree next to a wall. The bark of the tree appears to have been cut with bullets or shrapnel on the front side of the army.
“We saw that there was gunfire from the army,” Hannaish said. “When Ali and Shirin and I ran to hide, we ran away from them.”
Sharif Azer, a local resident on his way to work, heard gunshots and rushed to help. In another widely shared video, he can be seen climbing the wall where Hanesh was taking cover and helping him escape.
Several gunshots can be heard after Abu Akleh is killed, as people hide on both sides of the road. When Azer walks away from the tree, gunfire fires and he backs away, indicating that they are coming from an army position. He says that he could see the soldiers pointing their guns.
“They fired at us more than once. Every time someone would come near them, they would open fire on them,” he said.
a possible scenario
The Israeli military’s preliminary investigation into the shootings said there were two possibilities.
In the first, it was said that on the other side of the convoy, Palestinian militants to the south were firing hundreds of rounds, one of which could have killed Abu Akleh, who was about 300 meters away. Bullets fired from the M16 can cover a distance of over 1,000 metres.
But the military has not provided any visual evidence other than footage of Palestinian militants firing from another location that did not look towards Abu Akleh.
The Associated Press did not uncover any evidence to support this first scenario.
The second scenario, at this point, seems more plausible.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. Amnon Scheffler says there was at least one Palestinian gunman on the street among soldiers and journalists “in the vicinity” of Abu Akleh. The terrorist reportedly fired several times at an army vehicle, and a soldier inside it fired from a rifle equipped with a telescopic scope.
Schaeffler said the military’s investigation has focused on that rifle, although it still believes a stray Palestinian bullet could have killed it.
The army says it cannot respond without comparing the bullet to the weapon. “Without the possibility of an investigation of the bullet, suspicion remains,” Major General Yifat Tomar-Yerushalmi, the army’s chief prosecutor, said in a speech on Monday.
She said that because the killing took place in an active war zone, there would be no decision on whether to launch a criminal investigation until the preliminary investigation is complete.
Videos posted on social media that day showed heavy gunfire in other parts of Jenin, including near a house surrounded by Israeli military vehicles, about 1.5 kilometers from where Abu Akleh was shot. (A mile) away an arrest raid was being conducted.
All witnesses who spoke to the Associated Press insisted that there were no terrorists in the area between the journalists and the military. The area is mostly open, but a gunman could potentially take shelter in the brush-filled cemetery on the eastern side of the road or in an open-air brick factory next to where the journalists were located.
No militant can be seen in any of the videos showing the location of the journalists. The Palestinian Health Ministry says no other Palestinians were killed or injured in Jenin that day. Local media have no record of any other Palestinian casualties.
Walid Omeri, who oversees Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Palestinian territories, said he saw no evidence of any terrorists among journalists and the military.
“If there was a Palestinian extremist there, why didn’t you shoot the terrorist? They have snipers,” he said. “It is clear to us now that they targeted Shireen.”
Almost immediately after the shooting, Israel called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank, and asked it to hand over the bullet that killed Abu Akle for ballistic analysis. Israel invited Palestinian and US representatives to participate in the investigation.
The PA refused, saying Israel could not be trusted to conduct the investigation itself. Within hours of the shooting, both the PA and Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh, but did not provide any specific evidence for the claim, which Israel strongly denies.
A spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinians were conducting a “pure, professional investigation” and would share the results with international bodies. He declined to give details of the investigation or to answer questions about attempts to match the bullet to the weapon.
“We are convinced that Israel is responsible for the murder, and we have evidence, evidence and witnesses that confirm it,” Nabil Abu Radeneh told the Associated Press. “We have no confidence in the Israeli investigation because they aim to falsify the facts.”
Israeli investigations into Palestinian firing often dragged on for months or years and then quietly averted, and rights groups say soldiers are rarely held accountable.
Israeli officials initially suggested that the Palestinian fighters in the video shared by them may have killed Abu Aqleh. They backtracked after an Israeli rights group, B’Salem, aired another video that showed it was nearly impossible for them to shoot him, as the two locations were hundreds of meters apart and separated by buildings and walls. B’Tselem is still conducting its investigation.
Palestinian investigators are in possession of the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, which was recovered from his head. Samodi says that the bullet that hit him shattered, leaving a few pieces inside his back. It is not clear whether any other pieces have been recovered.
Lior Nadivi, a former crime scene investigator and firearms examiner for the Israeli police, said there would likely be evidence in the bullet that killed Abu Akleh.
A deformity may indicate that it is ricochet. Marks will show the type of weapon, and a subtle signature can potentially be used to match the bullet to a specific firearm. He said there is “no way” to tamper with a bullet without leaving a clear mark on it.
But Nadivi said that it is also important to have a complete picture of what happened.
“You have to place everyone who fired in the general direction of this journalist and then try to analyze what happened to each shot,” he said. “There’s a lot of information you need, and right now we don’t have anything.”
In the end, it may prove impossible to know what really happened; Neither party is likely to accept the conclusion drawn by the other. Israel’s closest ally, the United States, says it is “working to bridge cooperation between the sides”, but there is no sign of any progress.
Last week, 57 House Democrats called for an FBI investigation. Both Israel and the PA will have to request US aid, and neither appears to be. Israel says it has invited the US to participate in an observer role.
In principle, each party can present evidence to a third party for analysis. But neither side has shown interest in that kind of investigation, and each side can allege tampering with evidence if the outcome is not liked.
Samodi visited the murder scene in a wheelchair on Thursday, as supporters set up a makeshift memorial. Hanaisheh also arrived, but kept a distance from the tree where she was almost dead, saying that she was still too hurt to approach him.
However, he has not given up the job.
Two days after Abu Akleh was killed, the Israeli army returned to Jenin to conduct another raid. Israel says it is targeting militants after several attacks in recent weeks, many of which were carried out by attackers in and around Jenin.
Hannashe said that more journalists than usual came out to cover it – and she was one of them.
“Any journalist anywhere knows they can be killed, but if we don’t do this, no one else will,” she said. “We know the business doesn’t want what happens here to get out.”
Associated Press reporter Majdi Mohamed contributed to this report.