The Palestinian Authority on Thursday announced the results of its investigation into the shooting killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shirin Abu Akleh, saying it has proved he was intentionally killed by Israeli forces as he tried to flee.
The findings echoed the results of the preliminary investigation and were widely expected.
Israel rejected the findings, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz calling them “a blatant lie”.
Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian American reporter for Al Jazeera’s Arabic service, was shot in the head on May 11 during an Israeli military raid on the city of Jenin in the occupied West Bank.
Witnesses and Palestinian officials have said she was hit by Israeli gunfire. Israel says he was shot during a fight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian militants. It says only a ballistic analysis of the bullet – that the Palestinian Authority has – and the soldiers’ guns can determine who fired the fatal shot.
Announcing the results of his investigation at a news conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Palestinian Attorney General Akram al-Khatib said he had determined that there were no terrorists in the vicinity of Abu Aklah.
“There was only one shooting by the occupying forces with the aim of killing,” he said.
Abu Akleh was among a group of journalists wearing helmets and protective vests marked “the press”. Al Khatib said the military saw the journalists and knew they were journalists.
He accused Israel of shooting Abu Akleh “directly and deliberately” as he tried to flee. He also reiterated the Palestinian position that the bullet would not be handed over to the Israelis for study.
Al Khatib said his investigation was based on interviews with witnesses, inspections of the scene and a forensic medical report.
In a speech later on Thursday, Israeli Lieutenant General Aviv Kohawi said it was impossible to know who fired the shots and once again called on Palestinians to cooperate to “get to the bottom” of what happened.
“But there is one thing that can be determined with certainty,” said the military chief. “No soldier deliberately fired at a journalist. We investigated it. We investigated it. That’s the conclusion. There is no other.”
Israel has denied targeting the journalists and has offered two possible scenarios, saying that Abu Akle was either shot by Palestinian militants who fired indiscriminately at an Israeli army convoy, or that he A nearby terrorist was hit with aimed Israeli bullets. The military has identified the rifle that may have been used in that scenario, but says it needs to test the bullet to make a final determination.
An Associated Press reconstruction of events has given support to eyewitnesses who say he was shot by Israeli soldiers. But a weapons expert interviewed by the Associated Press as part of the reconstruction said it was impossible to reach a conclusive conclusion without further forensic analysis.
Palestinian eyewitnesses say there were no militants or clashes anywhere near Abu Akleh. The only known terrorist in the area was on the other side of the convoy, about 300 meters from his position. They had no straight line, unlike the convoy, which was about 200 (m) away on a long straight road.
The Palestinian Authority has refused to hand over the bullet to Israel or cooperate with it in any way, saying Israel cannot be trusted to investigate its conduct. Rights groups say Israel’s investigations have had a poor record of when security forces shot Palestinians, with cases often hanging on for months or years before closing quietly.
The Palestinian Authority manages parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Hussein al-Sheikh, a top Palestinian official, said Thursday’s report would be shared with the US administration. He said copies would also be given to Abu Akle’s family and Al Jazeera.
Palestinians say they will share their results with international parties, including the International Criminal Court, which last year launched an investigation into possible Israeli war crimes. Israel has dismissed that investigation as biased against it and is not cooperating.
Serious mistrust means that the Israeli and Palestinian investigations into the death of Abu Akleh are being separated, and neither is likely to accept a conclusion from the other.
Each side has potentially significant evidence. Ballistic analysis can match a bullet to a specific firearm based on a subtle signature, but only if investigators have access to both. A military spokesman, Lt Col Amnon Scheffler, told the Associated Press that the military has additional footage from that day, but declined to say what it shows or when it will be released, citing an ongoing investigation.
Palestinians are still mourning Abu Aklah, a widely known and respected on-air correspondent who rose to fame two decades ago during the Second Palestinian Intifada, or insurgency, against the Israeli regime. The 51-year-old documented the harsh realities of life under Israel’s military rule – now in his sixth decade with no end in sight for audiences around the Arab world.