Israel’s Herzog: Inquiries on Death of Al Jazeera Reporter Must ‘Study the Facts’
Israeli President Isaac Herzog reiterated a call for Palestinian authorities to cooperate in a joint investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, as Israeli officials flatly rejected a CNN report asserting that the Al Jazeera journalist was deliberately killed by IDF forces earlier this month.
The Tuesday CNN report on the death of the Palestinian-American journalist claimed to present “new video evidence and eyewitness testimony” suggesting that Abu Akleh was shot in a “targeted attack by Israeli forces” as she covered IDF counterterrorism operations in Jenin, in the West Bank.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Herzog called Abu Akleh’s death “of course a very sad event.”
“It pains me. It pains many Israelis,” Herzog said. “The event came in the context of fighting terror in Jenin, following the murder of so many Israelis. But what we have done, since we are a transparent nation that knows to run professional investigations and the rule of law is supreme in our land, we have offered the Palestinians a joint investigation as to the circumstances of this very tragic event.”
The Palestinian Authority has refused to hand over the bullet found in Abu Akleh’s body, Herzog said, hindering an Israeli ballistics investigation.
“Israel was open and transparent and offered the United States to join this process of investigation as well, because we attach high importance to freedom of speech and the work of journalists and media channels, and we respect them,” he continued. “We have already in the past had cases where we were blamed and the truth transpired later, that there were a lot of fake facts regarding Israel. Don’t base yourself on fake facts. Study the facts. Facts can be studied scientifically. Unfortunately, the Palestinians refused to cooperate.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll responded directly to the CNN report, which claimed that the gunfire that killed Abu Akleh came from a group of four or five armored Israeli vehicles placed several hundred meters away.
Abu Akleh was shot on May 11 in Jenin, where IDF soldiers were conducting counterterrorism operations following a string of deadly terror attacks in Israel, including several that originated from the West Bank city.
“CNN’s claim that Abu Akleh was killed in a ‘targeted attack’ is devoid of any basis in reality,” stated Roll. “The IDF operates in Jenin solely to prevent terror attacks against Israelis.”
“CNN’s report is full of unfounded conclusions and inaccuracies, and relies on unreliable sources,” Roll said.
Similarly, the Israeli military stated that the “claim that an IDF soldier intentionally targeted journalists is baseless and false.”
Citing preliminary findings of its ongoing investigation, the military said this week that it remains unclear whether Abu Akleh was killed by indiscriminate Palestinian fire or accidentally by Israeli troops, during the gun-battle in Jenin.
The US news outlet said its investigation, based on videos from the incident and eyewitness testimony, suggests that there was no active combat at the scene nor any Palestinian militants preceding the shooting of Abu Akleh.
“There was no conflict or confrontations at all. We were about 10 guys, give or take, walking around, laughing and joking with the journalists,” Salim Awad, the 27-year-old Jenin camp resident who filmed a 16-minute video, told CNN. “We were not afraid of anything. We didn’t expect anything would happen, because when we saw journalists around, we thought it’d be a safe area.”
“The IDF has been thoroughly investigating the circumstances of Abu Akleh’s death,” the Israeli army said in an official response to the CNN report. “Any assertions regarding the motives behind Abu Akleh’s death must be backed by hard evidence and not speculation or biased testimonies.”
Earlier this week, IDF Advocate General Brig.-Gen. Yifat Tomer-Yerushalmi said that Israel is obligated to fully examine the circumstances that led to Abu Akleh’s death, despite the challenges faced thus far in securing the fatal bullet.
“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.”