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Israeli gunfire killed journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, U.N. says

Palestinian artists paint a mural in honor of slain veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, after she was killed on May 11. A new U.N. report says Israeli forces fired the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured a colleague.
Mohammed Abed
/
AFP via Getty Images
Palestinian artists paint a mural in honor of slain veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, after she was killed on May 11. A new U.N. report says Israeli forces fired the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured a colleague.

Updated June 24, 2022 at 10:01 AM ET

The U.N. office for human rights says its review of the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli army operation last month shows that the shots that killed her and injured her colleague came from Israeli forces — not Palestinians, despite Israel's claim that it is unclear which side killed her.

"We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists," U.N. Human Rights Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement released Friday.

The office says it reached its determination after gathering information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general. Its staff also visited the scene where Abu Akleh was shot, spoke to witnesses and experts, and analyzed video and other records.

The journalist was covering an Israeli raid

Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old Palestinian American, was killed on May 11 while covering a morning military raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was shot in the head while wearing a helmet and vest marking her as press.

At first, Israel's military and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Abu Akleh was likely killed by armed Palestinians firing indiscriminately — a narrative that was quickly questioned by witnesses and by B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights monitor.

After its initial statements, Israel acknowledged that it's possible one of its soldiers fired the shots, and it's been investigating the killing. But Israel has also dismissed the findings of outside investigations that laid the blame on its military, saying they were biased.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the U.N. inquiry into Shireen Abu Akleh's death "unfounded."

"Her loved ones deserve to know the truth behind her tragic death," Gantz said in a statement. "We may only uncover the truth by conducting a thorough ballistic, forensic investigation and not through unfounded investigations such as the one published by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights."

U.N. details the sequence of events before Abu Akleh's death

On the day she died, Abu Akleh was in a group of seven journalists that came to the Jenin refugee camp's western entrance shortly after 6 a.m. local time, according to the U.N. report. They were attempting to cover an Israeli arrest operation in the camp.

The journalists approached via a side street, saying later that the route avoided armed Palestinians and would also "make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street," the U.N. report states.

Here's how the rights office describes the shooting:

"At around 06h30, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with 'PRESS' markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly. Several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach Abu Akleh's body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree. Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh's body."

Israel has called on Palestinians to conduct a joint investigation into the shooting. But Abu Akleh's family says that would be like relying on a suspect to investigate their own case, and they want the U.S. to investigate, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reported last week.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price has dismissed the idea of a U.S. investigation, saying Israel has the "wherewithal" to conduct an investigation that "culminates in accountability."

NPR's Daniel Estrin contributed to this report.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.