Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday. The Palestinian health ministry said she was shot in the head by a live bullet, and confirmed her death shortly afterwards. The circumstances surrounding her death are unclear.
Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest, with “press” clearly written on it, when she was shot. The Al Jazeera network’s bureau chief, Waleed Al Omari, wept on air as he announced the news. Tributes started pouring in for Abu Akleh as news of her death spread.
Akleh’s producer, Ali Al-Samudi, was also shot and is in a stable condition, the ministry said. Al Jazeera has accused Israeli security forces of deliberately targeting and killing Abu Akleh and called on the international community to condemn and hold Israel accountable. Al-Samudi said later Wednesday that there were no Palestinian gunmen in the area at the time. “The Israeli army shot us,” said Al-Samudi. “There was no Palestinian gunman in the place.”
A journalist who was covering Israel’s operation in Jenin on Wednesday alongside the slain Al Jazeera correspondent said that Abu Akleh and other journalists made themselves known to Israeli forces in before they were shot at. “I saw Shireen on the ground,” said journalist Mujahed al-Saadi. “We tried to rescue Shireen and we couldn’t. The occupation targeted Shireen while wearing a helmet, the injury was under the ear,” he added. “Shireen fell while she was wearing press (gear) and even with that the people who tried to save her were shot at, the targeting was clear against Shireen and against us as journalistic teams.”
Abu Akleh was born and raised in Jerusalem and belonged to a Christian family, according to Bir Zeit University, where she was a teacher. She was 51, according to the university. “She initially studied architecture at the University of Science and Technology in Jordan, then moved to the written journalism specialization, and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Yarmouk University in Jordan,” according to her university bio. She had worked with UNRWA, Voice of Palestine Radio, Amman Satellite Channel, the Miftah Foundation and Monte Carlo Radio before joining Al Jazeera.
Abu Akleh’s colleague, Nida Ibrahim, said she was a “very well respected journalist” who had been working with Al Jazeera since the beginning of the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000, according to the network. “As you can imagine, this is a shock to the journalists who have been working with her,” Ibrahim said, in tears.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said its security forces had been operating in the area “to arrest suspects in terrorist activities,” and both Palestinian suspects and Israeli forces were firing at the time. “As part of the activity in the Jenin refugee camp, suspects fired heavily at the force and threw explosives. The force responded by firing. Hits were detected,” the IDF said. “The possibility that journalists were hit, possibly by Palestinian gunfire, is being investigated. The event is being examined.”
The Israeli military has stepped up its operations in the West Bank after a series of attacks targeting Israelis has left 18 people dead. Several of the attackers were from the Jenin area. Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement it “appears likely” armed Palestinians were responsible for Abu Akleh’s death. “According to the information we’ve gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were indiscriminately firing at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” the Israeli prime minister said in a statement Wednesday.
The prime minister’s office released a video showing people running in the Jenin refugee camp, shouting about a soldier being hit. The video could not be independently verified that the video is connected to Abu Akleh’s death. “No IDF soldier was injured, which increases the possibility that Palestinian terrorists were the ones who shot the journalist,” Bennett said.
“Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh of @AJArabic @AJEnglish,” said US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides. “I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.”
In response to the shooting, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Twitter his government had offered to conduct a joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation, adding: “Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth.”