Shireen Abu Akleh: Al Jazeera reporter killed by Israeli gunfire

| Zena Al Tahhan pour Al-Jazeera |

Israeli forces shot Abu Akleh in the head while she was on assignment in Jenin in the occupied West Bank.

Ramallah, Occupied West Bank – Israeli forces have shot dead Al Jazeera’s journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Abu Akleh, a longtime TV correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic, was killed on Wednesday while covering Israeli army raids in the city of Jenin in the northern occupied West Bank.

She was rushed to a hospital in Jenin in critical condition, where she was declared dead shortly after, at 7:15am (4:15 GMT), according to the ministry and Al Jazeera journalists.

Abu Akleh was wearing a press vest and was standing with other journalists when she was killed.

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was also wounded by a bullet in the back at the scene. He is now in stable condition.

The head of the medicine department at al-Najah University in Nablus confirmed that Abu Akleh was shot in the head. He said that her body was transferred for an autopsy based on an order from the public prosecution.

Abu Akleh’s body was carried out of the university coated in a Palestinian flag, after which she will be taken to the Istishari Hospital in Ramallah.

An official funeral will be held for her tomorrow morning at the Palestinian presidency headquarters in Ramallah.

‘No confrontations’

Al-Samoudi and other journalists at the scene said there were no Palestinian fighters present when the journalists were shot, directly disputing an Israeli statement referencing the possibility that it was Palestinian fire.

“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” said al-Samoudi.

“The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Shireen … there was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene.”

Shatha Hanaysha, a local journalist who was standing next to Abu Akleh when she was shot, also told Al Jazeera that there had been no confrontations between Palestinian fighters and the Israeli army. She said the group of journalists had been directly targeted.

“We were four journalists, we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” Hanaysha said. “The [Israeli] occupation army did not stop firing even after she collapsed. I couldn’t even extend my arm to pull her because of the shots being fired. The army was adamant on shooting to kill.”

The details of Abu Akleh’s killing are still emerging, but videos of the incident show that she was shot in the head, said Al Jazeera’s Nida Ibrahim.

“What we know for now is that the Palestinian health ministry has announced her death. Shireen Abu Akleh was covering the events unfolding in Jenin, specifically, an Israeli raid on the city, which is north of the occupied West Bank, when she was hit by a bullet to the head,” Ibrahim said, speaking from the Palestinian city of Ramallah.

In her last email to the network, Abu Akleh sent a message to Al Jazeera’s Ramallah bureau at 6:13am (3:13 GMT) in which she wrote: “Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighbourhood. On the way there – I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear.”

Separately on Wednesday in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry said an 18 year old Palestinian, Thaer Mislet-Yazouri, was shot dead by Israeli forces in the town of al-Bireh, near the illegal settlement of Psagot.

Shock and grief

Abu Akleh, who was a dual Palestinian-American national, was one of Al Jazeera’s first field correspondents, joining the network in 1997.

Grief and sorrow filled the Al Jazeera offices in downtown Ramallah as the news quickly spread and dozens of colleagues, fellow journalists, friends, and Palestinian figures poured in, including Palestinian politicians Hanan Ashrawi and Khalida Jarrar.

Palestinian MP Khalida Jarrar said that Abu Akleh was the voice of Palestinians and was killed by “the monstrosity of Israeli colonialism and occupation”.

“Shireen was always my voice from the prison cells,” Jarrar told Al Jazeera, adding that a month into her last detention by Israel, Shireen was the first person she saw at her court hearings.

“Shireen was our voice. It is unbelievable. It is a crime, it is all clear – intentional and direct targeting. She was targeted. It’s clear,” said Jarrar.

The Palestinian presidency condemned the killing, saying in a statement that it holds the Israeli occupation responsible.

Palestinian Authority (PA) government spokesperson Ibrahim Melhem described it as a “comprehensive crime committed against a well-known journalist”.

“The killing was deliberate… There will be an autopsy by Palestinian medics, which will be followed by a report including all the details of the killing,” Melhem told Al Jazeera.

“However, all the witnesses present at the scene of the crime ensures that it was an Israeli sniper that committed the crime in a deliberate way.”

Yair Lapid, the Israeli foreign minister, said Tel Aviv was offering a “joint pathological investigation” into Abu Akleh’s “sad death”. He added that “journalists must be protected in conflict zones”.

One of Abu Akleh’s former colleagues, Mohammad Hawwash, who knew her for more than 25 years, said she was a “real journalist”.

“Shereen was a professional and unbiased journalist who conveyed the reality and events as they are,” Hawwash, 70, told Al Jazeera.

Palestine TV correspondent Christine Rinawi, who was often with Abu Akleh in the field in Jerusalem, said the late reporter was a “professor in the world of journalism.”

“We would meet for hours in the field, we would be arrested together, we were wounded together. Shireen was a message throughout all her journalistic life, and even in her martyrdom, she is a message,” Rinawi told Al Jazeera.

“This is a sad day, a black day. There are no words to explain the pain that we are all going through,” she added.

The Israeli military said its soldiers had come under attack with heavy gunfire and explosives while operating in Jenin, and that they fired back. It added that it was “investigating the event”.

Al Jazeera’s offices in the Gaza Strip, in a building that also housed the Associated Press, were bombed by Israeli forces during an offensive a year ago, and Palestinian and international journalists say they have been regularly targeted by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

Many in Palestine and abroad took to social media to express their shock and grief.

“Israeli occupation forces assassinated our beloved journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering their brutality in Jenin this morning. Shireen was most prominent Palestinian journalist and a close friend,” wrote Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Kingdom.

Those who knew her described her as brave, kind and a voice for the Palestinians.

“Shireen was a brave, kind and high integrity journalist that I and millions of Palestinians grew up watching,” wrote Fadi Quran, an activist at the campaign group, Avaaz.

“Horrified to hear of Israel’s killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin! Shireen has boldly covered Israel’s aggression in Palestine for over two decades,” wrote Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American activist and lawyer.

“In disbelief,” wrote Salem Barahmeh, a Palestinian activist. “We grew up to her reporting on the second intifada. She was our voice. Rest in power and peace. Another day, another tragedy.”

Giles Trendle, Al Jazeera’s managing director, said the network was “shocked and saddened” by the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.

“We have had a history throughout the world but particularly in this region, where we have had tragedies,” he said, calling for a transparent investigation of the killing of Abu Akleh.

“As journalists, we carry on. Our mission is to carry on. We will not be silenced,” said Trendle. “Our mission is always to carry on to inform the world what is happening. And that is more important ever.”

- Photo from Shireen Abu Akleh’s desk, where her colleagues from the Syndicate of Journalists put up a poster of her.