President Joe Biden on Friday said the US insists on a “full and transparent accounting” of the killing of veteran Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was fatally shot while covering an Israeli military operation in the West Bank.
The US determined earlier this month that gunfire from the Israeli military was “likely responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death in May but there was “no reason to believe that this was intentional,” according to State Department spokesman Ned Price. Price said that a “definitive conclusion” could not be reached due to the condition of the bullet. Following the US findings, the Israeli defense minister, Benny Gantz, said that it was “not possible to determine the source of the shooting,” echoing earlier official Israeli claims that a Palestinian militant may have been responsible for killing her.
Palestinian officials and members of Abu Akleh’s family have criticized the US probe and are urging the US to do more to hold Israel accountable for the killing.
Abu Akleh was a household name in the Arab world, having spent decades reporting on the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Footage obtained by CNN – corroborated by testimony from eight eyewitnesses, an audio forensic analyst and an explosive weapons expert – suggested that Abu Akleh, who was wearing a helmet and blue protective vest marked “Press” at the time of her killing, was shot dead in a targeted attack by Israeli forces.
Biden on Friday called Abu Akleh’s death an “enormous loss” as he stood alongside Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem in the West Bank.
“I hope that her legacy … will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling stories that are too often overlooked. The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” Biden said.
He added, “She was an American, an American citizen and a proud Palestinian and she was performing very vital work in an independent media, a vital work of democracy.”
On his journey through Bethlehem to meet the Palestinian leader, Biden’s motorcade drove past a giant mural of Abu Akleh, painted on the high concrete wall built by Israel to separate it from the West Bank.
The image included the word “justice,” which was written across the body armor Abu Akleh is wearing in the picture.
Other posters of the correspondent had also been hung across the city.
At the presidential compound, where Biden met Abbas, many Palestinian journalists and TV technicians wore identical T-shirts bearing an image of Abu Akleh in her memory.
And at the press briefing held at the end of the two leaders’ meeting, a chair in the front row had been left empty, except for a large photo of the late reporter.
Abu Akleh’s family wrote an open letter to Biden, saying his administration failed to conduct a thorough probe into her killing and requesting a meeting with the President. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke recently with the late journalist’s family and invited them to come to the US to meet with him in person, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said this week.
Several Democratic senators wrote a letter to Blinken this week, saying the US review into Abu Akleh’s killing did not meet the standards of an “independent, credible investigation,” according to a statement Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen posted on Twitter. The letter was signed by Van Hollen and Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Murphy of Connecticut.
CNN is among at least five media outlets that conducted investigations that suggest the shot that killed Abu Akleh was fired from a position where only Israeli troops were located. None of the investigations found any evidence of Palestinian militants near Abu Akleh when she was shot, or of militants who had a direct line of fire toward her. A United Nations Human Rights Office investigation reached the same conclusions as the journalistic investigations.
CNN’s Hadas Gold contributed to this report.