The Palestinian Authority has handed over to US forensic experts the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on May 11, according to Palestinian officials.
Akram al-Khatib, general prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, had said that officials had “agreed to transfer the bullet to the Americans for examination”. However, conflicting reports over who would conduct the tests on the bullet emerged on Sunday, with an Israeli military spokesman telling Army Radio: “The test will not be American. The test will be an Israeli test, with an American presence throughout.”
Al-Khatib, meanwhile, told Voice of Palestine radio that officials had received “guarantees” from the United States “that the examination will be conducted by them and that the Israeli side will not take part”. The US did not immediately comment on the opposing claims.
Palestinian officials, and many rights groups and media outlets, have reached the conclusion that Al Jazeera journalist Abu Akleh was killed by the Israeli military.
The United Nations human rights office last month said that information it had gathered showed that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was fired by Israeli forces. Several witnesses said Israeli forces killed the Jerusalem-born Abu Akleh.
Israeli officials initially said Palestinian fighters could have killed Abu Akleh. However, Israel later backtracked and said it could not rule out the possibility that an Israeli soldier had fired the shot.
The decision to give the bullet to US experts follows a weeks-long impasse over who would conduct the investigation, with Palestinian officials saying a probe involving Israel would not be transparent.
“The Palestinians have been very clear that they do not want Israel involved when it comes to the analysis of the bullet,” Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker reported from West Jerusalem. “They refused to hand it over before; they refused a joint investigation which [Israel] offered very soon after the killing.”
The Palestinian decision to finally hand the bullet over to the US follows a call between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, with US officials “keen to have this wrapped up” before US President Joe Biden visits Israel and the occupied West Bank next week, Dekker said.
She added the results from the analysis were expected to be delivered to the Palestinians by the end of the day, although “whether that is going to lead to any accountability and justice, Palestinians certainly remain extremely sceptical”.
Palestinians were quick to condemn Israel’s alleged involvement in the analysis.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Mustafa Barghouti, the secretary-general of the Palestinian National Initiative, said if the Israeli reports were true, “two huge mistakes have been done”.
“One [is] by the Palestinian Authority in passing the bullet to the American side and trusting [them],” he said. “The second mistake is by the Americans, who promised that the Israelis will not do the forensics themselves, and now they are passing the bullet to the Israelis.”
“In both cases, we will not trust the Israelis. We will not trust them on the investigation of matters that they have been involved in. It is like asking the criminal to investigate himself,” he said. “All we’ve been asking for, the world community has been asking, is for an international independent commission.”
According to ballistic and forensic experts, the green-tipped bullet that killed Abu Akleh was designed to pierce armour and is used in an M4 rifle. The round was extracted from her head.
The bullet was analysed using 3D models and, according to experts, it was 5.56mm calibre – the same used by Israeli forces. The round was designed and manufactured in the US, experts said.
Glenn Carle, a former deputy national intelligence officer for transnational threats at the CIA, said that the results of the investigation could put Biden in an awkward position.
He said any decision on how the bullet will be tested will “frankly come from the White House” given its political and diplomatic implications.
“An analysis that finds that the bullet came from an Israeli shooter or rifle, could create problems for the Israeli government. Yet, the US is not going to want to hide the facts whatever they turn out to be. So it will be a delicate issue which I would guess American authorities would want to defer until after President Biden’s trip,” he added.
Al Jazeera Media Network announced on May 26 that it had assigned a legal team to refer the killing to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The case was recently handed over to the ICC prosecutor. However, the current status of the investigation remains unclear.
Lawyers working on a case filed with the ICC about the targeting of Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces have also said they will add Abu Akleh’s killing to the case.