What happened: The source of the gunfire that tragically killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Aqla remains unclear.
- Abu Aqla was killed in the crossfire between IDF troops operating on a counter-terror operation against Palestinian gunmen in Jenin early Wednesday morning.
- Shireen was a senior, prominent journalist, popular across the Arab world. She was respected and trusted by foreign media and Israeli colleagues.
- According to the initial autopsy carried out by the Palestinian Forensic Medicine Institute the results were inconclusive. Dr. Rayyan Al Ali, Director of Forensic Medicine Institute at An-Najah University, said it could not yet be established with certainty whether she had been shot by an IDF or a Palestinian gun
Palestinian response: Yesterday the Palestinian Authority (PA) hosted a formal memorial service at the presidential palace in Ramallah.
- The ceremony was attended by thousands of mourners.
- PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has refused to participate in a joint investigation into Abu Aqla’s death. Instead, he has threatened to appeal to the International Criminal Court to “prosecute the criminals,” adding: “We hold the Israeli occupation authorities totally responsible for her killing. This crime cannot go unpunished.”
Initial IDF investigation: The IDF has found that Abu Aqla was not targeted by its forces and that she was not in the IDF line of fire when killed.
- All the soldiers involved said they did not see her and did not shoot in her direction.
- The IDF maintain that without the ability to analyse the bullet it will be impossible to accurately assess who killed her.
- The bullet, a 5.56 mm, is used both by the IDF and by Palestinian gunmen but ballistic analysis would establish which version of the bullet killed her and which gun had fired the shot.
- IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi expressed his regret over the journalist’s death and said the military would establish a special committee to investigate the incident.
- Kochavi added: “During a night time operation, as in many other instances, Palestinians fired wildly at our forces in all directions, wild and indiscriminate gunfire that. In contrast to the Palestinians, IDF soldiers carry out professional, selective gunfire. The journalist who was killed was in a battle zone. At this stage, we are unable to establish who’s gunfire hit her. We regret her death.”
- In a review of video footage, around 1,000 bullets were fired by armed Palestinians toward the IDF, including from a range of weapons that had been set to the automatic fire position.
- However, the IDF has not ruled out the possibility that Israeli soldiers may accidentally have hit the journalist, possibly by a ricochet, or a bullet that penetrated a wall or a bullet that was aimed at a gunman but hit her unintentionally.
Diplomatic front: Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has been liaising with PA Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh in an effort to conduct a joint pathological investigation.
- Lapid has also appealed to US officials to persuade the Palestinians to agree to a joint investigation. Abu Aqla was a resident of Israel, but she also held US citizenship.
- Israel officials have called for an open and transparent investigation, noting “those who have nothing to hide do not refuse to cooperate”.
Security context: Israel has been dealing with a spike of terror over the last two months that has seen 19 Israeli killed in six lethal terror attacks. Three of the attackers emanated from the Jenin area.
- The IDF operation on Wednesday morning was the first time in three weeks that IDF forces had entered Jenin.
- Since Abu Aqla’s death, the IDF has scaled back operations in the West Bank in an effort to defuse tension.
- In a briefing to international media, Defence Minister Gantz emphasised “the State of Israel and the defence establishment, to include the IDF, value human life above all, and we place great importance on freedom of press, on your work and as much as possible to ensure the security of the journalists who are operating on the ground.”
- This week marked the year anniversary of the ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’. According to Gantz, “We are operating under a new policy since the operation as far as the Gaza area. In Gaza we are very conservative in terms of security aspects and policy and we try to have a broader humanitarian and basic economic policy, to include the workers that come to Israel, as much as we can and I hope that we can renew this, this coming Sunday.”
- Relating to the West Bank he said, “We want to keep a strong Palestinian Authority and a weak Hamas as much as we can. We maintain communication with the PA on all levels and we are moving forward with confidence-building measures as much as we can in tangible economic value for the citizens.”
Looking forward: Abu Aqla was a Jerusalemite Christian Arab and will be buried in Jerusalem this afternoon.
- The funeral is expected to be attended by thousands of mourners, including diplomats and Palestinian officials.
- The Israeli Police are braced for disturbances. According to a senior police official, “We have intelligence and other indications that certain elements may try to turn the funeral procession into a procession of incitement. We have no intention of allowing that to happen … our goal is to allow the funeral to take place in a dignified manner, in accordance with the law.”