Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the reported decision by US officials to open an independent probe into the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh a “grave mistake.”
“I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the IDF’s soldiers, we will not cooperate with an external investigation, and we won’t allow [foreign] involvement in Israel’s internal affairs.” Gantz said. “The IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the case details were shared.”
Gantz appeared to confirm earlier reports in the Hebrew press that the US Department of Justice has recently informed the Israeli Ministry of Justice that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had opened a criminal investigation into the death of the Al Jazeera journalist.
A spokesman for the Department of Justice and the FBI both declined to comment on the opening of an investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing when contacted by The Algemeiner.
The 51-year-old Abu Akleh was fatally shot in Jenin, in the West Bank on May 11, while covering IDF counter-terrorism raid operations that followed a deadly string of terror attacks in Israel which killed 19 Israelis.
The decision to open a criminal investigation into the case, which was first reported by Israel’s Channel 14, may lead to a request by US authorities to investigate the IDF soldiers who were involved in the incident, which Israel is not likely to agree to.
The report about a separate US investigation comes after the Israeli army in September released findings from its own probe, which concluded that there is a “high possibility,” Abu Akleh was “accidentally” hit by IDF gunfire during an exchange of fire with armed Palestinian gunmen. However, the origin of the fire that led to the death of Abu Akleh could not be determined “unequivocally,” according to the IDF investigation.
Israel’s Military Advocate General concluded there is “no suspicion” of a criminal offense and no military police or criminal investigation will be opened.
Commenting on the report about an US investigation, US Senator for Maryland Chris Van Hollen stated: “This is an overdue but necessary and important step in the pursuit of justice and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist Abu Akleh.”
Meanwhile, Abu Akleh’s family, which has been accusing the Israeli army of deliberately targeting Shireen, has repeatedly called for both an independent US probe into her death as well as for an investigation and trial by the International Criminal Court.
The Palestinian Observer Mission to the UN in New York and Al Jazeera, Abu Akleh’s employer, did not immediately respond to requests for comment by The Algemeiner.
Andrew Bernard contributed to this report.