Palestinian journalist killed in raid by Israeli forces

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By Reuters

A Palestinian journalist was shot dead while reporting for Al Jazeera on a raid by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

The Qatar-based network said Sherine Abu Aqla (51) was shot “deliberately” and “in cold blood” by Israeli troops. Her producer was also shot and wounded.

Israel’s prime minister said it was “likely” they were shot by Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire.

It comes amid a surge in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinian president said he held the Israeli government fully responsible for what he described as a “crime of execution”.

Sherine Abu Aqla was known to millions for her coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Israeli military said its soldiers and security forces conducted a raid on the Jenin refugee camp early on Wednesday to apprehend “terrorist suspects”.

“During the activity, tens of Palestinian gunmen fired at and hurled explosive devices toward the soldiers. The soldiers responded with fire toward the gunmen and hits were identified.”

The Palestinian health ministry said Sherine Abu Aqla was hit in the head by a live bullet as she covered the raid. She was taken to hospital in a critical condition and later pronounced dead.

Another Palestinian journalist, Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back and was in a stable condition in hospital, the health ministry added.

“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” Al Jazeera cited Mr Samoudi as saying. “The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Sherine.

“There was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene,” he added.

Sherine’s body has been carried through the streets of Jenin, draped in a Palestinian flag and covered with her press flak jacket. Reporters and photographers packed in around the procession – having to cover the death of one of their own.

Sherine was a well-loved reporter, one of the region’s most experienced; always a familiar face at the many big news events that break here. A generation of Palestinians grew up seeing her on their TV screens, one of the best-known women reporters covering the conflict.

In a tight-knit press corps, there is shock and disbelief. One colleague posted what he said was the last picture of her with them, putting on her flak jacket five minutes before her death. Another said of Sherine: “She saw death so many times during her coverage. You taught us how to do this dangerous work. You just broke our hearts.”

A statement from Al Jazeera said: “In a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms, the Israeli Occupation Forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine, Sherine Abu Aqla, targeting her with live fire early this morning… while conducting her journalistic duty, clearly wearing press jacket that identifies her a journalist.”

The network called on the international community to hold the Israeli government and military accountable for the “intentional targeting and killing” of a journalist.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the shooting of Abu Aqla and Samoudi and alleged that it was “part of the occupation’s policy of targeting journalists to obscure the truth and commit crimes silently”.

Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi, who was wounded, said the fire came from Israeli soldiers.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett accused Abbas of making “baseless accusations”.

“According to the information we have gathered, it appears likely that armed Palestinians – who were firing indiscriminately at the time – were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” he said in a statement.

“Palestinians in Jenin were even filmed boasting: ‘We hit a soldier; he’s lying on the ground.’ However, no [Israeli] soldier was injured, which increases the possibility that Palestinian terrorists were the ones who shot the journalist.

Bennett said Israel had called on the Palestinian Authority to conduct a joint post mortem and investigation in order to get to the truth, but that Palestinian officials had so far refused the offer.

The US ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, said he was “very sad” to learn of Abu Aqla’s death and that he encouraged a thorough investigation into the circumstances.

Abu Aqla was a veteran Al Jazeera correspondent and was one of the best-known women to become a regular face on TV screens covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over the years.

Her colleague Nida Ibrahim said she was “very well respected” and that the news was “a shock to the journalists who have been working with her”.

The Palestinian ambassador to the UK, Husam Zomlot, told the BBC’s Newsday programme that she was a very close friend.

“She was a household [name] in Palestine, in the region and worldwide for being who she was – a prominent journalist who spent her life covering news, covering Israeli brutality in Palestine.”

The Israeli military frequently launches arrest raids into Jenin refugee camp. They have stepped up recently following a wave of attacks by Israeli Arabs and Palestinians on the streets of Israel and the West Bank in recent weeks that has left 17 Israelis and two Ukrainians dead.

At least 26 Palestinians have been killed – including assailants shot dead while carrying out attacks, or militants and civilians killed during Israeli raids and confrontations in the West Bank.

Israeli operations have centred on the Jenin district, where four of the Palestinians who carried out attacks in Israel came from.