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Al Jazeera reporter killed during Israeli raid in West Bank

Shireen Abu Akleh, a journalist for Al Jazeera network, stands next to a TV camera in an area where the Dome of the Rock shrine at Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem is seen at left in the background (Al Jazeera via AP) 
Joseph Krauss and Fares Akram, Associated Press

A journalist for Al Jazeera has been shot dead while covering an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank town of Jenin.

The broadcaster and a reporter hurt in the incident blamed Israeli forces, who said they are investigating.

Shireen Abu Akleh, a well-known Palestinian female reporter for the broadcaster’s Arabic language channel and a US citizen, died soon after being hit by a bullet.

Ali Samoudi, another Palestinian journalist, was hospitalised in a stable condition after being shot in the back.

The Qatar-based network interrupted its broadcast to announce Ms Abu Akleh’s death.

In a statement flashed on its channel, it called on the international community to “condemn and hold the Israeli occupation forces accountable for deliberately targeting and killing our colleague”.

“We pledge to prosecute the perpetrators legally, no matter how hard they try to cover up their crime, and bring them to justice,” Al Jazeera said in a statement.

The Israeli military said its forces came under attack from heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin and fired back.

The military said it is “investigating the event and looking into the possibility that the journalists were hit by the Palestinian gunmen”.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that based on the information they had already gathered, “there is a considerable chance that armed Palestinians, who fired wildly, were the ones who brought about the journalist’s unfortunate death”.

Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid said it proposed a joint pathological investigation into the reporter’s death to the Palestinian Authority, which has refused the offer.

“Journalists must be protected in conflict zones and we all have a responsibility to get to the truth,” he tweeted.

The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, tweeted that he was “very sad” to learn of Ms Abu Akleh’s death and called for a “thorough investigation”.

The Palestinian Authority, which administers parts of the occupied West Bank and co-operates with Israel on security matters, condemned what it said was a “shocking crime” committed by Israeli forces.

Ms Abu Akleh, 51, was born in Jerusalem.

She began working for Al Jazeera in 1997 and regularly reported on-camera from across the Palestinian territories.

In video footage of the incident, Ms Abu Akleh can be seen wearing a blue flak jacket clearly marked with the word “Press”.

Mr Samoudi, who was working as her producer, told The Associated Press they were among a group of seven reporters who went to cover the raid early on Wednesday.

He said they were all wearing protective gear that clearly marked them as reporters, and they passed by Israeli troops so the soldiers would see them and know that they were there.

He said a first shot missed them, a second hit him, and a third killed Ms Abu Akleh.

He said there were no militants or other civilians in the area — only the reporters and the army.

He said the military’s suggestion they were shot by militants is a “complete lie”.

Shaza Hanaysheh, a reporter with a Palestinian news website who was also among the reporters, gave a similar account in an interview with Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel, saying there were no clashes or shooting in the immediate area.

She said when the shots rang out she and Ms Abu Akleh ran towards a tree to take shelter.

“I reached the tree before Shireen. She fell on the ground,” Ms Hanaysheh said.

“The soldiers did not stop shooting even after she fell. Every time I extended my hand to pull Shireen, the soldiers fired at us.”

Ran Kochav, an Israeli commander, told army radio the two journalists were standing alongside armed Palestinians.

He said the gunmen were “unprofessional people, terrorists, who were shooting at our troops”.

Israel has carried out near-daily raids in the occupied West Bank in recent weeks amid a series of deadly attacks inside Israel, many of them carried out by Palestinians from in and around Jenin.

The town, and particularly its refugee camp, has long been known as a militant bastion.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and the Palestinians want the territory to form the main part of their future state.

Nearly three million Palestinians live in the territory under Israeli military rule.

Israel has built more than 130 settlements across the West Bank that are home to nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers, who have full Israeli citizenship.

Israelis have long been critical of Al Jazeera’s coverage, but authorities generally allow its journalists to operate freely.

Another Al Jazeera reporter, Givara Budeiri, was briefly detained last year during a protest in Jerusalem and treated for a broken hand, which her employer blamed on rough treatment by police.

Relations between Israeli forces and the media, especially Palestinian journalists, is strained.

A number of Palestinian reporters have been hurt by rubber-coated bullets or tear gas while covering demonstrations in the West Bank.

A Palestinian journalist in Gaza was shot and killed by Israeli forces while filming violent protests along the Gaza frontier in 2018.

Another journalist working for a local Gaza radio station, who was shot on the same day at Gaza frontier, died a week later.

In November 2018, Associated Press reporter Rashed Rashid was covering a protest near the Gaza frontier when he was shot in the left ankle, apparently by Israeli fire.

Mr Rashid was wearing protective gear that clearly identified him as a journalist and was standing with a crowd of other journalists some 600 meters away from the Israeli border when he was hit.

The military has never acknowledged the shooting.

During last year’s war between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, an Israeli airstrike destroyed the building in Gaza City housing the offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.

Residents were warned to evacuate and no one was hurt in the strike.

Israel said Hamas was using the building as a command centre but provided no evidence.

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