Washington : US officials have concluded that the bullet that killed veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aqleh was likely fired from an Israeli position. But they say it is too badly damaged to reach an absolute determination, and that there is “no reason to believe’’ she was deliberately targeted.
State Department spokesman Ned Price, announcing the results of the probe, said “independent, third-party examiners’’ had undertaken an “extremely detailed forensic analysis’’ of the bullet that killed her after the Palestinian Authority handed it over to them.
The family of Abu Aqleh said they were “incredulous” after the US reported it was not possible to determine whose gun fired the bullet which killed her.
“With respect to today’s announcement by the State Department - on July 4, no less - that a test of the spent round that killed Shireen Abu Aqleh, an American citizen, was inconclusive as to the origin of the gun that fired it, we are incredulous,” the family said in a statement.
Abu Aqleh, a veteran Palestinian-American correspondent who was well known throughout the Arab world, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on May 11 in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, say Israeli troops killed her and that there were no militants in the immediate vicinity.
Israel says she was killed during a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only a forensic analysis of the bullet would confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant. It has strongly denied she was deliberately targeted, but says an Israeli soldier may have hit her by mistake during an exchange of fire with a militant.
US security officials examined the results of separate Palestinian and Israeli investigations and “concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Aqleh,’’ Price said in a statement.
The US “found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad,’’ Price said.
The Israeli military presented the findings as part of its own investigation in a statement that was likely to anger the Palestinian Authority, which had adamantly rejected any Israeli role in the probe and refused to share the bullet with Israeli authorities.
The PA handed the bullet over to US officials over the weekend while insisting it was still opposed to any cooperation with Israel.
The Israeli military said that while the bullet remained in the custody of US officials throughout the process, it was examined by Israeli experts in a forensic laboratory in Israel.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the army chief of staff, ordered the investigation be continued “using all available means,’’ the military said in a statement. It said any decision on whether to launch criminal investigation would only be made after the operational investigation is completed.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz issued a similar statement, saying “unfortunately, it is not possible to determine the source of the shooting — and as such, the investigation will continue.’’ His statement did not include any details about who analysed the bullet.
US officials said a third-party expert, neither Israeli nor Palestinian, examined the fragment as part of the US review, and that it remained in US possession throughout the review.
The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera accused Israeli forces of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh within hours of her death.