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Journalists hold posters displaying Shireen Abu Akleh

Journalists hold posters displaying Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by Israeli forces on May 11, 2022. (Photo:  Mohammed Mahjoub/AFP via Getty Images)

UN Human Rights Office Confirms: Israeli Forces Killed Journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

"Perpetrators must be held to account," said a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Jake Johnson

Confirming the findings of several major journalistic investigations, the United Nations Human Rights Office said Friday that Israeli forces fired the shots that killed beloved Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and wounded her colleague last month as they covered a raid in the occupied West Bank.

Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that it is "deeply disturbing that Israeli authorities have not conducted a criminal investigation" in the six weeks since Abu Akleh's killing, which sparked international outrage.

"We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists."

"We at the U.N. Human Rights Office have concluded our independent monitoring into the incident," said Shamdasani. "All information we have gathered—including official information from the Israeli military and the Palestinian attorney general—is consistent with the finding that the shots that killed Abu Akleh and injured her colleague Ali Sammoudi came from Israeli Security Forces and not from indiscriminate firing by armed Palestinians, as initially claimed by Israeli authorities."

"We have found no information suggesting that there was activity by armed Palestinians in the immediate vicinity of the journalists," Shamdasani added.

The U.N. body's findings came days after the New York Times published its investigation showing that the "bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit."

"The evidence reviewed by the Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot," the newspaper noted. "It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman."

Last month, two weeks after the killing, CNN similarly concluded that "there was no active combat, nor any Palestinian militants, near Abu Akleh in the moments leading up to her death."

"Videos obtained by CNN, corroborated by testimony from eight eyewitnesses, an audio forensic analyst, and an explosive weapons expert, suggest that Abu Akleh was shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces," the outlet reported.

The major publications' findings confirmed Al Jazeera's initial response to Abu Akleh's killing. In a statement issued shortly after its Palestine correspondent was shot in the head, the Al Jazeera Media Network accused Israel of "deliberately targeting and killing our colleague."

"Al Jazeera holds the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the killing of Shireen," the network said. "It also calls on the international community to condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for their intentional targeting and killing of Shireen."

The U.N. human rights body said Friday that "in accordance with our global human rights monitoring methodology, our office inspected photo, video, and audio material, visited the scene, consulted experts, reviewed official communications, and interviewed witnesses."

The office went on to outline its findings:

On 11 May 2022, soon after 06h00, seven journalists, including Shireen Abu Akleh, arrived at the western entrance of the Jenin refugee camp in the northern occupied West Bank to cover an ongoing arrest operation by Israeli Security Forces and the ensuing clashes.

The journalists said they chose a side street for their approach to avoid the location of armed Palestinians inside the camp and that they proceeded slowly in order to make their presence visible to the Israeli forces deployed down the street. Our findings indicate that no warnings were issued and no shooting was taking place at that time and at that location.

 At around 06h30, as four of the journalists turned into the street leading to the camp, wearing bulletproof helmets and flak jackets with "PRESS" markings, several single, seemingly well-aimed bullets were fired towards them from the direction of the Israeli Security Forces. One single bullet injured Ali Sammoudi in the shoulder, another single bullet hit Abu Akleh in the head and killed her instantly. Several further single bullets were fired as an unarmed man attempted to approach Abu Akleh's body and another uninjured journalist sheltering behind a tree. Shots continued to be fired as this individual eventually managed to carry away Abu Akleh's body.

"International human rights law requires prompt, thorough, transparent, independent, and impartial investigation into all use of force resulting in death or serious injury," the U.N. statement continued. "Perpetrators must be held to account."

On Thursday, two dozen U.S. senators called on President Joe Biden to ensure that the United States government is directly involved with investigations into the killing of Abu Akleh, an American citizen.

Thus far, the Biden administration has declined to play a role, insisting that the Israeli government should lead the probe. Earlier this month, in the wake of CNN's investigation, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken asserted that the facts of Abu Akleh's killing had not been "established."

In their letter to Biden on Thursday, the 24 U.S. senators wrote that "the U.S. government has an obligation to ensure that a comprehensive, impartial, and open investigation into her shooting death is conducted—one in which all parties can have full confidence in the ultimate findings."

"In order to protect freedom of the press," they added, "a thorough and transparent investigation under U.S. auspices must be conducted to get to the truth and provide accountability for the killing of this American citizen and journalist."


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