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Israeli military gunfire likely killed Palestinian American journalist, U.S. concludes

NBC News logo NBC News 7/4/2022 Alexander Smith

The United States has concluded that gunfire from Israeli military positions likely killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the State Department said Monday, though it added that there was "no reason to believe" her shooting was intentional.

The bullet that killed the veteran Al Jazeera reporter in the occupied West Bank in May was so badly damaged that a forensic analysis overseen by U.S. officials "could not reach a definitive conclusion" about its origin, according to the statement by State Department spokesman Ned Price.

However, having been granted access to both Israeli and Palestinian investigations over the past few weeks, the United States Security Coordinator, the team overseeing the investigation, "concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible," Price said. The IDF, or Israel Defense Forces, is the country's military force.

The U.S. investigators "found no reason to believe that this was intentional, but rather the result of tragic circumstances" during an IDF raid on the militant group Islamic Jihad "following a series of terror attacks in Israel," the statement said.

Mourners attend a memorial ceremony for Shireen Abu Akleh (Abbas Momani / AFP via Getty Images file) © Abbas Momani Mourners attend a memorial ceremony for Shireen Abu Akleh (Abbas Momani / AFP via Getty Images file)

Abu Akleh was shot dead while covering the raid in the West Bank on May 11. Her killing and the ensuing feud, as well as an Israeli police crackdown on her funeral, has stoked tensions between the two sides ahead of an upcoming visit by President Joe Biden.

The Palestinians accuse the Israeli military of killing her deliberately. Israel denies this, saying Abu Akleh may have been hit by errant army fire or by a nearby Palestinian gunmen who it said were clashing with its forces.

Al Jazeera staff who witnessed the incident, as well as another reporter who was wounded, have said Israeli forces fired the shots that killed their colleague.

Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or Palestinian militants in the immediate area when she was killed. All of them were wearing protective equipment that clearly identified them as members of the press.

Last month the United Nations human rights office said its own investigations had found that she was killed by IDF fire and not indiscriminate shots from Palestinians, as claimed by Israel.

This weekend the Palestinians handed over the bullet that killed Abu Akleh. Israel said Sunday it would test this bullet to determine whether it was responsible. Overseeing the process would be officials from the USSC, a team made up of Department of Defense officials assigned to the State Department.

Washington "continues to encourage cooperation" between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Price's statement said. "We will remain engaged with Israel and the PA on next steps and urge accountability. We again offer our deepest condolences to the Abu Akleh family."

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