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May 20, 2022 2:42 pm

Israeli Ambassador on ‘Disheartening’ Call by Democrats for US Investigation Into Reporter’s Death: ‘Our Interest Is Finding the Truth’

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Palestinians bid farewell to Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank May 12, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog on Friday criticized a demand by a group of 57 House Democrats for a US investigation into the death of a Palestinian-American journalist fatally shot while reporting in the West Bank earlier this month.

In a letter Thursday to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray, the House lawmakers said they were “deeply concerned” by the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, who was a US citizen and longtime Al Jazeera journalist. The Israeli military says she was shot during a gunfight between IDF troops and Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank city of Jenin, and has sought the cooperation of Palestinian authorities to determine culpability. The Palestinian Authority has rejected such a joint probe, blaming Israeli troops for her death.

The 57 House Democrats welcomed Blinken’s previous statements on the incident, but said, “however, given the tenuous situation in the region and the conflicting reports surrounding the death of Ms. Abu Akleh, we request the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) launch an investigation into Ms. Abu Akleh’s death.”

The letter also pointed to an account from another Palestinian journalist wounded in the incident, who denied the presence of Palestinian gunmen at the scene in Jenin.

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“We, the undersigned Members of Congress, urge you to uphold the values that our nation was founded on, including human rights, equality for all, and freedom of speech,” said the group, which included Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), Pramila Jayapal (WA), Rashida Tlaib (MI), Tom Malinowski (NJ), Andy Levin (MI), Jamaal Bowman (NY) and Zoe Lofgren (CA). “We have a duty to protect Americans reporting abroad.”

Responding to the letter on Friday, Israel’s envoy in Washington said it “does not offer a fair representation of the case, ignores important context of the events leading to Ms. Abu Akleh’s tragic death and reaches the wrong conclusion.”

The IDF raid followed a string of deadly terror attacks in Israel, Herzog noted, including some originating from the Jenin area, where the Palestinian Authority has “lost effective security control.”

“On May 11, 2022, Israeli security forces operated in Jenin to thwart yet another impending terror attack and were confronted by heavily armed Palestinian militants, most of them affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — a US designated terror organization,” he said. “Shireen Abu Akleh died in the exchange of fire in this charged environment.”

“The letter ignores the fact that Israel has, from the outset, called for an impartial joint Israeli-Palestinian investigation with the US in an observer role,” he continued. “Our call was flatly rejected by the PA, which is cynically using the Ms. Abu Akleh’s death to instigate an anti-Israel propaganda campaign. The lack of acknowledgement of Israel’s call for an investigation gives room to the false impression that Israel opposes a genuine investigation, while our primary interest is finding the truth.”

Herzog pointed to the PA’s refusal to give Israel access to the bullet that killed Abu Akleh, making impossible an Israeli ballistic assessment that could determine if it was fired by an IDF weapon. He also said that those claiming that there were no clashes or shooting in the area of the incident were ignoring evidence, including statements from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and video footage.

“No journalist should die in the line of duty. Israel holds freedom of the press in the highest regard and sees the protection of journalists as a fundamental part of our democracy,” Herzog continued.  “IDF troops would never intentionally target members of the press.”

“To our friends in Congress, we say: Rather than sending unconstructive messages, truth and justice would be better served by calling on the PA to give Israel access to the bullet and allow for the completion of the investigation with the US in an observer role.”

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