For the first time, the Israeli army acknowledged on Monday "a strong possibility" of having killed, but not deliberately, the journalist of the pan-Arab channel Al Jazeera Shireen Abu Akleh, a half-hearted admission decried by the family and supporters of the reporter.
Al Jazeera star, the American-Palestinian journalist was shot dead on May 11 while covering an Israeli military operation in the Palestinian camp of Jenin, a stronghold of the Palestinian armed factions in the north of the occupied West Bank, where a special unit was trying to apprehend "suspects", which had led to armed clashes.
After the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, equipped with a bullet-proof vest with the words "press" and a helmet, the Palestinian Authority and its employer Al Jazeera immediately accused the Israeli army of having killed her.
Israel has consistently denied this accusation, despite journalistic and a UN report concluding with an Israeli shooting, which however excluded that it was deliberate.
However, on Monday, the Israeli army published the "final conclusions" of its investigation and admitted that one of its soldiers had indeed fired at the journalist, mistaking her identity: "There is a strong possibility that Mrs Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by Israeli army fire which was aimed at suspects identified as Palestinian gunmen”.
The army said it studied the sequence of events "chronologically", analyzed the scene, the videos and sounds recorded on the spot, conducted a "simulation of the scene" and that "Israeli experts" conducted a ballistic analysis of the ball, on July 2, in the presence of representatives of the "United States Security Coordination Committee for Israel and the Palestinian Authority".
Due to the “poor condition of the bullet”, identifying its origin was “difficult”, underlines the army in its report, saying that it does not have “unequivocal” certainty of the origin of the fatal shot at the journalist.
Like the Israeli army, the United States had concluded that Shireen Abu Akleh had "presumably" killed by fire from an Israeli position, without having reason to believe that his death was intentional.
“The soldier was not looking to target an Al Jazeera reporter or a journalist in general. (…) The soldier misidentified his target and he is sorry about that,” a senior Israeli military official said in a press briefing on Monday. "It shouldn't have happened, he didn't do it deliberately," he added.
This official indicated that the soldier, posted about 200 meters behind the journalist, had not seen his inscription "press" on the front of his bulletproof vest. He said the journalist had been shot in the back of the head.
The Israeli military prosecutor's office announced for its part on Monday that "there was no suspicion of a criminal act justifying the opening of a criminal investigation by the military police" and this, although there there is a "high probability" that Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli soldiers.
"The facts and the investigations prove that Israel is the culprit, that it is Israel that killed Shireen, and it is Israel that must bear the responsibility for its crime", reacted Nabil Abou Roudeina, the spokesman of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who had also organized a national funeral in Ramallah in honor of the journalist.
The Al Jazeera channel denounced the conclusions of the investigation, saying that "this lip service confession is nothing more than an attempt by the Israeli occupation forces to escape their criminal responsibility".
“Al Jazeera condemns the Israeli occupation forces' reluctance to explicitly admit their crime and their attempts to evade prosecution of the perpetrators,” the channel added in a statement.
The Abu Akleh family, who met US Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Washington in July, accused the Israeli authorities in a statement on Monday of "avoiding responsibility for the murder" of the journalist. "We remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed," said the family, asking the United States to conduct a "credible" investigation.
"The Israeli armed forces' admission of guilt comes too late and is incomplete," said Sherif Mansour, Middle East chief at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York.
"We welcome Israel's investigation into this tragic incident, and re-emphasize the importance of determining accountability in this case," State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The Editorial Board (with AFP)