U.S. calls for 'accountability' in Abu Akleh case ahead of Biden West Bank visit

·3-min read

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - The United States called on Wednesday for accountability over the death of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, whose killing during an Israeli West Bank raid is expected to be a major issue during President Joe Biden's Middle East visit.

Washington had concluded she was probably hit by an Israeli bullet and said it had no reason to believe it was intentional.

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One before Biden landed in Israel on Wednesday, U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan repeated that position but said Washington did not consider the case closed.

"The administration, at the president's direction, has been very much engaged in helping try to determine what exactly happened around the tragic circumstances of her death," he said.

"There will have to be efforts made in accountability and making sure that we find a way to conclude this chapter justly. This is someone who was a journalist, an American citizen. The president, the secretary of state, the entire team grieves for the family," he said.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist working for the Al Jazeera network, was shot in the head on May 11 while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinians believe she was killed deliberately by Israeli troops. Israel denies its soldiers shot her on purpose, and say she may have been killed either by errant army fire or a shot fired by a Palestinian gunman.

Sullivan said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had spoken with the family and invited them to a meeting in Washington.

Anton Abu Akleh, the slain journalist's brother, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that he welcomed Blinken's invitation.

"We hope the U.S. administration will correct its previous report and issue a new one that will be based on the facts," he said.

Biden's talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank on Friday will be the first between a U.S. president and a Palestinian leader since the Obama administration.

The Palestinians boycotted the Trump administration over its bias.

Palestinian journalists gathered in Gaza City on Wednesday to call for "justice" for Abu Akleh, one of the most prominent journalists covering the conflict.

"As President Biden visits the region for the first time we are here to demand protection for Palestinian journalists and hold the occupation accountable for the assassination of colleague Shireen Abu Akleh," said Mohammad Yassin, chairman of the Forum of Palestinian Journalists.

Israel says Palestinian gunmen were clashing with its forces at the scene of Abu Akleh's death, making it difficult to determine the precise circumstances, but that its troops did not shoot her deliberately.

A review of the incident by the UN human rights office lent support to witness accounts that Abu Akleh was killed by Israeli fire.

Palestinians say the gunshot wound to her head and other evidence show she was deliberately targeted. They have vowed to pursue the case before the International Criminal Court.

(This story refiles to correct secretary of state's first name to Antony, paragraph 8)

(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by James Mackenzie and Howard Goller)

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