By Chris Gallagher
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, but independent investigators could not reach a definitive conclusion about the origin of the bullet that struck her, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.
Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was killed on May 11 during an Israeli raid in the town of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
The U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), after summarizing investigations by both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority, concluded that gunfire from Israeli positions was likely responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, the State Department said.
“The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the State Department said in a statement.
In forensic analysis by third-party examiners overseen by the USSC, however, ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion as to its origin, the State Department said.
Palestinians have said the Israeli military deliberately killed Abu Akleh. Israel has denied this, saying she may have been hit by errant army fire or by a bullet from one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces at the scene.
A senior Palestinian official accused Washington of dragging its feet over the incident to protect Israel.
“The truth is clear but the U.S. administration continues to stall in announcing it,” Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), told Reuters.
“We say Israel killed Shireen Abu Akleh and it has to be held responsible for the crime it has committed.”
The death of Abu Akleh, one of the most recognizable faces reporting on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, triggered outrage across the world, particularly after her funeral in Jerusalem was marred by scenes of police beating mourners.
Feuding between the sides over the circumstances of her killing and the aftermath have overshadowed a visit by U.S. President Joe Biden due this month.
The Israeli military said it would continue to investigate the incident and a decision on whether to launch any criminal charges would be made after the operational examination.
Defence Minister Benny Gantz said Israel was committed to uncovering the truth. He said Israeli forces had responded to heavy fire from gunmen in the city, which houses a crowded refugee camp that has seen regular clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.
“The first to bear responsibility in such events, are the terrorists who operate from within population centers,” he said in a statement.