IDF says ‘high possibility’ that Al Jazeera reporter was accidentally killed by Israeli fire

Israel releases findings of internal army investigation into death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, suggesting no definite conclusions can be reached.

By World Israel News Staff

The Israeli military on Monday released the findings of its internal investigation into the death of an Arab-American journalist during an IDF operation in Jenin earlier this year, concluding that while it is impossible to conclusively determine the source of the shot which fatally wounded the journalist, there is a “high possibility” that the shot was fired by Israeli forces.

Major General Yehuda Fuchs, chief of the IDF’s Central Command, formally presented the findings of the army’s investigation to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi Monday afternoon.

On the morning of May 11, Jerusalem-born journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a 51-year-old correspondent for Al Jazeera, was shot and killed while on the scene of a gun battle between Islamic Jihad terrorists and IDF soldiers in the Palestinian Authority-administered city of Jenin.

An Al Jazeera photographer was also wounded in the incident.

In the report filed Monday, the IDF emphasized that the IDF was operating in Jenin on the day of Abu Akleh’s death in response to a wave of deadly terror attacks across Israel, noting that 11 of the recent attacks had been perpetrated by residents of Jenin.

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The report also highlighted the “wild and indiscriminate gunfire” by Islamic Jihad terrorists, adding that bombs were thrown at the IDF soldiers on the scene.

Based on interviews with soldiers, forensic tests, a chronological analysis of events minute-by-minute during the incident, an analysis of sound from the scene, and  on the relative positions of the terrorists and soldiers involved, investigators determined that “it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh.”

“However,” the army said in a statement Monday, “there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers.”

“It is also important to emphasize and clarify that throughout the entire incident, IDF gunfire was fired with the intent of neutralizing the terrorists who shot at IDF soldiers.”

Investigators added that it is plausible that Abu Akleh was hit by a shot fired by one of the Islamic Jihad terrorists.

“An additional possibility is that Ms. Abu Akleh was hit by bullets fired by armed Palestinian gunmen toward the direction of the area in which she was present.”

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Given the circumstances of the incident, the Military Advocate General ruled that no criminal investigation should be opened against any of the Israeli security personnel involved.

“The death of Shireen Abu Akleh is a devastating incident,” IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi said.

“The incident took place during operational activity intended to prevent Palestinian terrorism, which calls for the harming of Israeli civilians. The journalist was present in the area during an exchange of fire that lasted for almost an hour.”

“At that time, armed Palestinian gunmen shot wild and indiscriminate gunfire toward IDF soldiers and in every direction, endangering their lives. The IDF operates in immensely complex areas at a professional and high-quality level every night, while taking actions to avoid harming non-combatants.”

“The IDF takes great efforts to this end, while working to allow press coverage and the freedom of the press. The Palestinian terrorists hide and operate from within the Palestinian population, endangering their lives on an ongoing basis. This is an immense challenge for the IDF, but it is our professional and moral duty to stop and prevent terrorism, as well as achieving our goal – to defend Israeli civilians and the State of Israel.”

The investigation into Abu Akleh’s death was impeded in part by the Palestinian Authority’s refusal to cooperate with Israeli investigators, with Ramallah declining to transfer the bullet which killed Abu Akleh to Israeli forensics experts.

The bullet was ultimately handed over to officials from the U.S. embassy, which allowed Israeli experts to examine the round.

Both Israeli and American experts concluded that the bullet was too badly damaged for any conclusive determination, based on forensic tests alone, from where the fatal shot originated.