JERUSALEM: The US and EU led an international outcry on Saturday after Israeli police charged the funeral procession of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh and beat pallbearers who almost dropped her coffin.
Thousands of mourners packed Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the burial of the 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist, two days after she was killed during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Aqleh’s casket from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags.
The United States was “deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.
The European Union condemned what it said was “unnecessary force” used by the Israeli police.
Israel and the Palestinians traded blame after Abu Aqleh was shot in the head on Wednesday near Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. She had been wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest marked “Press”.
Israel’s army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes.
The Palestinian public prosecution said an initial probe showed “the only origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces”.
In a rare, unanimous statement, the UN Security Council condemned the killing, calling for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation,” diplomats said.
Abu Aqleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, was a highly respected reporter and her funeral drew massive crowds.
As her body left St Joseph’s hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed mourners who had hoisted Palestinian flags.
Police said about “300 rioters” had arrived at the hospital for the procession and “prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery - as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance”.
The police then intervened “to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned”, they said, adding glass bottles and other objects were thrown at officers.
The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured, of whom six were hospitalised. The Israeli police said they arrested six people.
Police then tried briefly to prevent thousands of mourners from following the coffin to the cemetery, but ultimately relented and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were raised, AFP reporters said.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into her killing.
Israel has publicly called for a joint probe, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected.
A PA official said on Saturday that the authority would welcome the “participation of all international bodies in the investigation”.
‘Sister of all Palestinians’
Grief over Abu Aqleh’s killing spread beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests staged in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.
She “was the sister of all Palestinians,” her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.
Fresh violence erupted Friday in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp that claimed the life of an Israeli officer.
Police said the commando, father of six Noam Raz, was wounded “during a shootout with armed terrorists,” and later died.
The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible.