Haaretz Check | Palestinian Gunman in IDF Video Unlikely to Have Killed Al Jazeera Journalist

Hundreds of meters and several buildings divide the Palestinian gunman shown in the video and the place where Shireen Abu Akleh was killed. Despite this, the possibility remains that gunfire from other Palestinian militants caused her death

Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia
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Deiaa Haj Yahia
Deiaa Haj Yahia

In the aftermath of the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, the Israeli army released a video in which a Palestinian is seen shooting – implying that the gunman in the video could be responsible for her death. Haaretz has concluded that it is unlikely that the gunman in the video was responsible for the reporter’s death.

This, however, does not negate the possibility that gunfire from other Palestinian militants caused Abu Akleh's death.

From what appears in the video released by the army, Abu Akleh was hundreds of meters away from the Palestinian gunman at the time and there were several buildings that blocked a direct line of sight between the gunman and the reporter, Haaretz found after inspecting the scene. This makes it considerably unlikely that the gunfire in the video is what killed the reporter.

Israel military sources say Abu Akleh was killed in an exchange of gunfire between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen, and that is was unclear whose gunfire was the cause of her death. The Palestinian Authority has accused Israel of intentionally killing Abu Akleh.

The video released by the Israeli military shows a Palestinian firing into an alleyway after which someone is heard yelling in Arabic, “They’ve hit one. They’ve hit a soldier. He’s lying on the ground.”

The military did not explicitly claim that the gunfire in the video caused the Al Jazeera reporter’s death, but it was provided in response to the Palestinian allegations and has been prominently featured in public diplomacy efforts by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the army over the incident.

Haaretz filmed its own video tracing backwards from Abu Akleh’s location at the time of her death to the location of the Palestinian gunman in the video. The video begins on Gaza Street in Jenin at the edge of the refugee camp. From there, the reporter walks towards the camp, crosses an intersection and turns left beyond a school run by the UN agency UNRWA. He then turns right into the refugee camp, left and again and right until he reaches an alley and stairs that end where the gunman was seen in the video the Israeli military shared.

Prior to Haaretz’s examination of the scene, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem made a similar video of its own and also came to the conclusion that it was unlikely that this was the gunman who shot Abu Akleh. That doesn’t exclude the possibility that other armed Palestinians in the area might have caused the reporter’s death in exchange of fire with Israeli forces. It’s also possible that Israeli military fire caused her death, as Palestinian eyewitnesses have claimed.

Preliminary results from an Israeli military investigation show that Abu Akleh was about 150 meters (328 feet) away from Israeli military forces when she was shot and killed. Soldiers from the elite Duvdevan Unit fired several dozen bullets during the raid in Jenin, the investigation shows, but whether it was Israeli or Palestinian gunfire that killed the Al Jazeera reporter is unknown.

The commander of the IDF Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, said, “There was a large number of exchanges of fire. We encountered wild unorganized firing from all directions.”

Wednesday evening saw feverish contacts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding whether the bullet removed from Abu Akleh’s body would be turned over for examination in Israel. Palestinian officials rejected Israel's request to receive the bullet and conduct forensic testing on it, as well as their request to conduct a joint investigation into the journalist's death.

The bullet, which struck Abu Akleh in the head, is 5.56 millimeters in diameter and was shot from an M16 rifle. But since such rifles are used by both the Israel Defense Forces and Palestinian cells in the West Bank, the information is insufficient to determine which side fired the bullet.

Speaking about the importance of determining who was responsible, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said "the investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable." Price later told reporters that “the Israelis have the wherewithal and the capabilities" to conduct a thorough, comprehensive investigation.

With reporting by Amos Harel, Jack Khoury and Ben Samuels.

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