The family of the veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh has been received by Pope Francis at the Vatican, nearly six months after she was shot dead by Israeli forces while covering an army raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
On Wednesday Shireen’s brother Tony, his wife and two daughters were among a group of guests attending a general audience in Vatican City, a weekly appointment in which the pontiff greets pilgrims. Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Rome, described the brief meeting.
“Tony held out a picture of Shireen that [the pope] blessed and moved past the family… of course [it’s] significant and symbolic for a Catholic family,” Dekker said, adding that the family “had expected to have a bit more time with the pope”.
A memorial mass was held at 5pm local time (15:00 GMT) at the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin in Rome in honour of the slain Palestinian American reporter.
Abu Akleh, who worked for Al Jazeera for 25 years and was widely known as the “voice of Palestine”, was wearing a flak jacket and helmet that clearly identified her as a member of the press when she was shot in the head by Israeli forces on May 11.
Al Jazeera producer Ali al-Samoudi, who was standing near her along with a group of Palestinian journalists, was also shot in the back but recovered.
Israel initially said that Abu Akleh had been caught in crossfire, before backtracking. In September, an Israeli military report concluded that while Abu Akleh had likely been hit by Israeli forces, there would be no criminal investigation.
Abu Akleh’s family recently met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and has filed an official complaint to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to demand justice for her death.
Abu Akleh’s niece Lina, who has become the face of her family’s global campaign for justice, told Dekker that while they appreciated the words of condolences and support, what they really wanted was accountability.
“If we can’t get justice for Shireen, who was someone so well known and an American passport holder, then what chance is there for other Palestinians?”, the reporter quoted her as saying.
Lina Abu Akleh had announced the meeting with the head of the Catholic Church in a tweet on Tuesday: “My family and I are on our way to the Vatican at the invitation of Pope Francis … for a meeting about my aunt Shireen Abu Akleh and our family’s push for justice.
“People of conscience around the world continue to echo our calls for accountability and #JusticeForShireen,” she said.