Israeli forces killed a Palestinian American journalist for the Al Jazeera news network in the West Bank early Wednesday, according to the network and the Palestinian Health Ministry, in the latest casualty of a months-long escalation of violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, a longtime Al Jazeera correspondent, was shot in the head while covering Israeli raids in the Jenin refugee camp, according to the network and the ministry. She was taken to a hospital before dying from her wounds.
Israel’s army said it was involved in a clash at the camp and was investigating the possibility that “she was shot by a Palestinian gunman.”
In a statement, Al Jazeera accused Israeli forces of killing Abu Akleh “in cold blood” and said she had been “clearly wearing a press jacket that identifies her as a journalist.”
A second journalist, Ali al-Samudi, working for the Jerusalem-based Al-Quds newspaper, was shot in the back and in stable condition, the Health Ministry said. Two other Palestinians were taken to a hospital in moderate condition, medics added.
In its statement, the Israeli military said it was in the Jenin refugee camp carrying out “counterterrorism activity” when “tens of armed Palestinian gunmen” fired and threw explosive devices at their forces, to which the soldiers responded with live fire. “Hits were identified.”
“The IDF is investigating the event and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen,” the statement said, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.
IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav told Israel’s Army Radio that “all of the data indicate with a high degree of probability” that Abu Akleh was killed by Palestinian fire. “But I say that cautiously,” he added.
A senior Israeli official, in a statement sent to reporters, said that the army’s assessment was based on evidence that included video footage in which a gunman is heard saying in Arabic, “We hit a solider, he’s on the ground.” The Israeli military said that no Israeli soldiers were injured during clashes in Jenin Wednesday and that the Palestinians in the video may have been referring to Abu Akleh.
It was not clear when the video, which was published on the Israeli foreign ministry’s Twitter account Wednesday, was recorded, or where the incident depicted in the video occurred.
“We proposed to the Palestinians to begin a joint investigation. They took the body. They aren’t willing—they’re hiding, and they probably know why,” Kochav said.
In a message posted on Twitter, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid wrote: “We have offered the Palestinians 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.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement that he “condemns the crime of the execution Shireen Abu Akleh” and holds Israel “fully responsible.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said in a message posted on Twitter: “Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem said “The United States encourages a swift, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstances of her death.”
“We understand the Israel Defense Forces have already stated that they will be investigating this incident. As we have said numerous times, the United States supports press freedoms and the protection of journalists in carrying out their work,” she said.
Samudi told the Palestinian newspaper Ma’an that he and the reporters were wearing their helmets and press vests at the time of the shooting. He said it took place near the camp’s United Nations schools, far from the presence of any armed men.
Samudi said that as Israeli soldiers surrounded one of the homes in the Jenin camp to carry out an arrest, the soldiers fired indiscriminately, leading to a number of serious injuries and an outbreak of clashes with residents.
Atah Abu-Rumeleh, a doctor in Jenin who said he witnessed the shooting, said there had been no exchange of fire before the journalists were shot. “It was a clear day, and the sun was shining,” he said in a telephone interview. “A sniper from somewhere shot Shireen in the head. And Ali Samudi was also hit.”
Husam Zomlot, head of the Palestinian Mission to the United Kingdom, called Abu Akleh the “most prominent Palestinian journalist and a close friend.”
“Now we will hear the ‘concerns’ of the UK govt & the international community,” he wrote on Twitter.