The United States ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, has called for a “thorough investigation” into the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.
Abu Akleh was fatally shot by Israeli forces on Wednesday while reporting on Israeli raids in Jenin in the occupied West Bank, according to Palestinian authorities and witnesses. Another journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was wounded by a bullet in the back. He is now in stable condition.
Nides was the first US official to comment on Abu Akleh’s killing, confirming in a tweet that the 51-year-old was an American Palestinian, saying he was “sad to learn of her death”.
Very sad to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh of @AJArabic @AJEnglish. I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin.
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) May 11, 2022
“I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin,” he said.
Hours later, US State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the killing, saying those responsible “must be held accountable”.
“Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere,” he wrote.
The statements come as calls have grown for an independent investigation into the killing, with rights groups accusing Israel of systematically failing to hold its forces accountable for regularly targeting journalists.
Palestinian authorities have rejected an Israeli offer to conduct a joint investigation.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield called the killing “horrifying” and said a “transparent investigation” was needed.
“I actually had the opportunity to meet with her when I was in the West Bank last November and she did an extraordinary interview and I left there feeling extraordinary respect for her,” she said. “I know that she will be sadly missed by all of us and we have to ensure that we get to the bottom of her other killing.”
We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere.
— Ned Price (@StateDeptSpox) May 11, 2022
Israel’s military initially said Abu Akleh was shot during an exchange of gunfire and suggested she may have been killed by Palestinian fighters, although the chief of staff of the Israeli Army later walked back the comments.
Witnesses have rejected the early Israeli narrative, saying there was no crossfire at the time of the shooting and that Abu Akleh and other journalists were in an exposed area wearing clearly marked “PRESS” vests when they were attacked.
In a statement, Al Jazeera Media Network also called Abu Akleh’s killing a “blatant murder” that violated “international laws and norms”.
“Al Jazeera holds the Israeli government and the occupation forces responsible for the killing of Shireen,” it said.
Advocates have called on the US government, which calls itself Israel’s greatest friend, and other close allies to increase pressure in the wake of the killing.
However, many see a significant shift in relations unlikely.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mariam Barghouti, a Palestinian writer and researcher, dismissed Nides’s statement as “saving face and symbolism”.
“What that means is absolutely nothing,” she said. “American representatives in Palestine do not safeguard human life, do not safeguard even the lives of their citizens.”
Israel maintains widespread support both within the administration of President Joe Biden and among legislators in the US, although a small group of elected officials have increasingly called for Washington to reassess its relationship.
In particular, critics have called for the US to condition about $3.8bn in aid it provides to Israel every year on meeting human rights commitments.