Murdered Al Jazeera journalist to be buried in Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM – Thousands of Palestinians are expected to attend the funeral in Jerusalem on Friday of an Al Jazeera journalist who witnesses say was shot dead by Israeli forces earlier this week while covering a military operation in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army said its initial investigation showed heavy gunfire was taking place some 200 meters (yards) from where Shireen Abu Akleh was hit, but it was unable to determine whether she was shot by Israeli forces or Palestinian militants.

The past few days have seen an outpouring of grief in the Palestinian territories and the Arab world at large over the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran on-air correspondent who spent a quarter of a century covering the harsh realities of life under the Israeli military rule, which is well into its sixth decade with no end in sight.

A funeral service will be held at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday afternoon before his body is taken to a nearby cemetery for burial. Large crowds are expected to attend amid an increased Israeli police presence. Qatar-based Al Jazeera said its managing director, Ahmad Alyafei, would travel to Jerusalem to attend the funeral.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority and for it to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal round. The Palestinian Authority has refused, saying it will conduct its own investigation and take the case to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.

In a statement issued on Friday, the army said Palestinian gunmen were recklessly and repeatedly firing at an Israeli military vehicle near where Abu Akleh was shot. He said Israeli forces returned fire and without doing a ballistic analysis they cannot determine who was responsible.

“The conclusion of the provisional investigation is that it is not possible to determine the origin of the fire that reached and killed the reporter,” the army said.

Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was wounded by a gunshot, said there was no fighting or militants in the immediate area when she was killed Wednesday morning. They all wore protective gear that clearly identified them as reporters.

Either party is likely to cast doubt on any conclusion reached by the other, and there does not appear to be any possibility of an independent investigation by a third party.

The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh within hours of his death. Israel says a full investigation is needed before conclusions can be drawn about whether the fatal shot was carried out by its forces or by Palestinian militants.

Rights groups say Israel rarely pursues investigations into the killing of Palestinians by its security forces, handing out lenient punishments on the rare occasions it does.

Abu Akleh, 51, joined Al Jazeera’s Arabic service in 1997 and rose to fame covering the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israeli rule, in the early 2000s. The veteran reporter was a member highly respected member of the local press corps.

He was shot in the head early Wednesday while covering an Israeli arrest raid in the West Bank city of Jenin. Palestinians in and around Jenin have carried out a series of deadly attacks inside Israel in recent weeks, and Israel has launched near-daily arrest raids in the area, often sparking shootouts with militants.

Israeli troops entered Jenin again early Friday morning. An Associated Press photographer heard loud gunshots and explosions and said Israeli troops had surrounded a house.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 11 Palestinians were hospitalized after being injured in the fighting, including one who was shot in the stomach. The Israeli army tweeted that Palestinians opened fire as its forces entered to arrest suspected militants.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want both territories as part of their future state. Israel has annexed East Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and regards the entire city as its capital.

Police went to the home of Abu Akleh’s family in Jerusalem the day she was killed and showed up at other mourning events in the city to remove Palestinian flags. Tensions are running high ahead of her funeral.

Associated Press reporters Majdi Mohammed in Jenin, West Bank, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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