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September 7, 2022 3:57 pm
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Gantz Rebuffs US Call to Review IDF Rules of Engagement After Abu Akleh Killing

avatar by Andrew Bernard

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz attends a cabinet meeting of the new government at the Chagall Hall in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem May 24, 2020. Photo: Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS

Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Tuesday rejected any outside “political involvement” in determining the Israel Defense Forces’ rules of engagement, rebuffing a US State Department request that the IDF review its procedures following the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

“The IDF’s Chief of the General Staff, and he alone, determines, and will continue to determine the rules of engagement in accordance with our operational needs and values of the IDF,” Gantz said. “These instructions are implemented in a strict manner by soldiers and their commanders. There has not been, and there will not be any political involvement in the matter. IDF troops have my full backing in their mission to protect the citizens of Israel.”

On Monday, the IDF released a report concluding that there was a “high possibility” that Abu Akleh had been accidentally killed by the IDF on 11 May in the West Bank city of Jenin during a counter-terrorism operation. The IDF added that during the exchange of fire, “widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers (…) that lasted for almost an hour.”

Israeli officials said that Abu Akleh was never identified as a journalist and that “at no point was there any intentional gunfire carried out by IDF soldiers in a manner intended to harm the journalist.” The report concluded that there was “no suspicion” of a criminal offense in the matter and did not rule out the possibility that she had been killed by Palestinian gunmen.

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In response to Israel’s findings, State Department Spokesman Ned Price on Monday underscored “the importance of accountability in this case, such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”

State Department officials did not expand on specific policy changes or proposed reforms.

“That’s something that we continue to raise directly with Israel,” State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said on Tuesday. “That it closely review its policies and practices on the rules of engagement, to take additional steps to mitigate risk, to protect journalists, to protect civilian harm, and to ensure that similar tragedies don’t happen in the future.”

The Abu Akleh family in a statement released on Twitter slammed Israel’s report, claiming that it was an attempt to “obscure the truth and avoid responsibility for killing Shireen Abu Akleh” and that “Israel has refused to take responsibility for murdering Shireen.”

The family repeated their call for both an independent US investigation into her death as well as for an investigation and trial by the International Criminal Court. The Palestinian Authority referred the case to the ICC in May. The US has not indicated that it intends to open a separate investigation.

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