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May 23, 2022 2:34 pm

Israel Committed to Investigating Death of Al Jazeera Journalist Despite Challenges of Joint Probe, Says Top IDF Lawyer

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Palestinians hold pictures of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed while covering an IDF counter-terror raid in the West Bank May 11, 2022. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta

Israel is obligated to fully examine the circumstances that led to the death of Shireen Abu Akleh in the city of Jenin in the West Bank earlier this month, despite the army’s inability thus far to inspect the bullet that killed the Palestinian-American journalist, the IDF’s advocate general said Monday.

“Abu Akleh’s death is an unfortunate event, and the IDF is taking every possible effort to examine the incident and determine how Abu Akleh was killed,” said IDF Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi. “The duty of the military prosecution, like all prosecution bodies in the State of Israel, is not ‘striving for convictions’ but rather to first and foremost investigate to find the truth.”

During a speech at the annual conference of the Israel Bar Association in Eilat, Tomer-Yerushalmi commented on the current investigation into the death of the Al Jazeera reporter Abu Akleh, who was killed during an gunfight in Jenin, where IDF soldiers were conducting counterterrorism operations on May 11, following a string of deadly terror attacks in Israel.

“From the information that we currently have, dozens of Palestinian gunmen fired hundreds of bullets from a number of directions. An intense exchange of fire began between the Palestinian gunmen and IDF soldiers,” she said. “At this stage, it is not clear which side fired the bullet that hit and killed Abu Akleh.”

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The military’s advocate general emphasized that without an examination of the bullet, doubt remains around culpability.

“In these specific circumstances, the most accurate way to find the cause of death is to conduct a professional ballistics examination of the bullet that was found in Abu Akleh’s body,” Tomer-Yerushalmi explained. “This bullet is currently in the possession of the Palestinian Authority, which has refused to cooperate.”

The Palestinian Authority has until now rejected calls for a joint Israeli-Palestinian probe, blaming Israeli troops for the journalist’s death. Tomer-Yerushalmi said that nonetheless, the IDF is fully committed to continue examining the incident.

“It is important to understand that in military activity, especially in an active combat zone, the ‘fog of war’ and the necessity to take immediate actions without delay must be taken into consideration,” she said. “The ‘fog of war’ and the nature of an active combat zone do not of course relieve us of the obligation we have to strive to investigate the truth and take actions needed to clarify all doubt.”

A decision about any possible criminal inquiry will only be considered after conclusions are reached by the IDF’s operational investigation.

“A criminal investigation is warranted when there is suspicion that a criminal offense occurred,” Tomer-Yerushalmi said. “The death of a person in an intense active combat zone, like what was seen in Jenin, does not automatically raise such suspicions.”

Tomer-Yerushalmi’s comments come after Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riad al-Maliki said that over the weekend, the PA had referred Abu Akleh’s death to the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor’s office.

In a Thursday letter to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and FBI Director Christopher Wray, a group of 57 House Democrats expressed their concern over Abu Akleh’s death, and called for an independent US probe.

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