Palestinians Honour Slain Journalist, Reject Joint Probe

Palestinians Honour Slain Journalist, Reject Joint Probe

Thousands of Palestinians on Thursday honoured Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at a memorial service in the occupied West Bank, a day after she was shot dead during an Israeli army raid.

Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the killing of Palestinian-American Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran of the Qatar-based network’s Arabic service, during clashes in the Jenin refugee camp.

The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into what Al Jazeera labelled a deliberate killing “in cold blood”, but the Palestinian Authority has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.

In a sign of Abu Akleh’s stature among Palestinians, she received what was described as a full state memorial at the Ramallah compound of president Mahmud Abbas, attended by foreign diplomats and prominent Arab Israeli politicians.

Thousands lined the streets as her coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was driven through the city.

Many held flowers, wreaths and pictures of Abu Akleh, who has been widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism and was well known to Arabic audiences since she covered the second Palestinian Intifada, or uprising, from 2000 to 2005.

“This crime should not go unpunished,” said Abbas, stressing that the PA held Israel “completely responsible” for her death and had “refused and rejected” an Israeli proposal for a joint investigation into her death.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said Wednesday it was “likely” Abu Akleh was killed by stray Palestinian gunfire — but Defence Minister Benny Gantz later conceded that it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her” or fire from “our side”.

“We are not certain how she was killed,” Gantz told reporters. “We are investigating.”

– No joint probe –

Israel had publicly called for a joint probe and stressed the need for Palestinian authorities to hand over the bullet that struck Abu Akleh for forensic examination.

The European Union has urged an “independent” probe while the United States demanded the killing be “transparently investigated”, calls echoed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

But senior PA official Hussein Al-Sheikh, a close Abbas confidant, said the Palestinians would investigate alone and share their findings.

“We affirmed that our investigation would be completed independently,” Al-Sheikh said on Twitter.

“We will inform her family, #USA, #Qatar and all official authorities and the public of the results of the investigation with high transparency. All of the indicators, the evidence and the witnesses confirm her assassination by #Israeli special units.”

An initial autopsy and forensic examination were conducted in Nablus in the Israel-occupied West Bank hours after her death, but no final conclusions have been disclosed.

– ‘Sister of all Palestinians’ –

Abu Akleh, a Christian born in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, is scheduled to be buried in the city on Friday.

At the family’s Jerusalem home late Wednesday, her brother Antoun told AFP that Abu Akleh was “the sister of all Palestinians.”

“What happened cannot be silenced.”

Her death came nearly a year after an Israeli airstrike destroyed a Gaza building that housed the offices of Al Jazeera and the news agency AP.

Tensions have again risen with a wave of attacks that have killed at least 18 people in Israel since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.

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.