Palestinians mourn slain Al Jazeera journalist, blaming Israel

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Ramallah, West Bank – Thousands of people gathered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on Thursday to mourn the death of an Al Jazeera journalist, as the head of the Palestinian Authority blamed Israel for his death and rejected an Israeli call for a joint investigation.

Shirin Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American reporter who has covered the Middle East conflict for more than 25 years, was shot dead during an Israeli military operation in the West Bank town of Jenin on Wednesday. Journalists accompanying him, including one who was shot and wounded, said Israeli forces opened fire on them, although they were clearly identified as journalists.

Israel says it is investigating. It initially suggested he might have been shot by Palestinian militants, without proof, but has since retreated. Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority, which operates in parts of the West Bank and is cooperating with it on security issues.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has angrily rejected the offer, saying “we fully blame the Israeli occupation authorities for killing him.”

“They cannot hide the truth through this crime,” Abbas said in a statement after his body was found flying the Palestinian flag in the West Bank city of Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority.

“They have committed a crime, and we will go to the International Criminal Court immediately because we do not believe them,” Abbas said. The ICC launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes a year ago.

Hussein al-Sheikh, a senior aide to Abbas, said the Palestinians would conduct their own investigations and release the results “with high transparency”. He denied the Israeli request to conduct its own ballistic analysis of the bullets.

Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin, which has emerged as a militant base in recent weeks as Palestinians launched a series of deadly attacks and launched military operations in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Qatar-based Al Jazeera has accused Israel of deliberate killings and vowed to take legal action. Journalists accompanying him said there were no Palestinian militants in the area.

Israeli officials initially suggested that Abu Akleh had been wounded by militants and released a video of gunmen firing on Israeli forces in a narrow alley inside the Jenin refugee camp. After an Israeli human rights group released a video of themselves, they retreated, showing the shooting site hundreds of meters away from where Abu Akleh was killed.

His death has cast a shadow of mourning over the entire Arab world. The 51-year-old was well-known as an experienced on-air correspondent for Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language channel. His reporting sheds light on the harsh realities of the Israeli military regime, which has gone into its sixties without end. He was also a US citizen.

His body will be brought to Jerusalem, where he was born, for burial on Friday.

The killings have sparked widespread condemnation and calls for accountability. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an “independent and transparent investigation” to ensure those responsible are held accountable.

Israeli Defense Minister Beni Gantz on Wednesday promised such an investigation, saying he was in contact with US and Palestinian officials and hoped for cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We’re trying to figure out exactly what happened,” he said. “I have no final decision.”

Abu Akleh’s death could lead to a re-examination of Israel’s military justice system, which is being examined as part of an ICC investigation. This threatens to further strain the often rocky relationship between the military and the international media.

Rights groups say Israel rarely pursues investigations into deadly conflicts with the Palestinians, and when it does, it often inflicts lenient punishments.

His death comes amid a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that has escalated tensions at a holy site in Jerusalem.

At least 18 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks in recent weeks, as well as more than 30 Palestinians, most of them involved in attacks or clashes with Israeli forces. Among the Palestinians killed were an unarmed woman and at least two apparent pedestrians, often criticized by Israel for using excessive force.

Krauss reports from Jerusalem. The Associated Press in Jerusalem is contributed by Ilan Ben Zion.

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