Palestinian honour guards carry the coffin of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh at the presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah – Copyright AFP ABBAS MOMANI
Majeda EL-BATSH and Gareth BROWNE
Thousands of Palestinians on Thursday honoured Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh across the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, a day after she was shot dead during an Israeli army raid.
Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the killing of Palestinian-American Abu Akleh, 51, a veteran of the Qatar-based network’s Arabic service, during clashes in the Jenin refugee camp.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into what Al Jazeera labelled a deliberate killing “in cold blood”, but the Palestinian Authority (PA) has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.
In a sign of Abu Akleh’s stature among Palestinians, she received what was described as a full state memorial at the Ramallah compound of president Mahmud Abbas.
Thousands lined the streets as her coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was driven through the West Bank city.
Many held flowers, wreaths and pictures of Abu Akleh, who has been widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism through her coverage of the conflict.
– ‘Wound in our hearts’ –
“This crime should not go unpunished,” said Abbas, adding that the PA held Israel “completely responsible” for her death, and had “refused and rejected” an Israeli proposal for a joint investigation.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said Wednesday it was “likely” Abu Akleh was killed by stray Palestinian gunfire — but Defence Minister Benny Gantz later conceded that it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her” or fire from “our side”.
Bennett on Thursday accused the PA of blocking Israel from accessing “the basic findings that would be necessary in order to reach the truth,” and warned them not to “taint the investigative process.”
Draped in a Palestinian scarf, Tariq Ahmed, 45, described the death as a “tragedy for all the nation”, comparing his grief to that he felt at the funeral of iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
“I have not felt this pain since Arafat died,” Ahmed said.
Another mourner, 45-year-old Hadil Hamdan, said that “Shireen was part of our lives”, adding that “her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts”.
– No joint probe –
Abu Akleh, a Christian born in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, is scheduled to be buried in the city on Friday.
As her coffin began its journey to Jerusalem to the drumbeat of a marching band, crowds chanted slogans demanding an end to Palestinian security cooperation with Israel.
Israel had publicly called for a joint probe and stressed the need for Palestinian authorities to hand over the fatal bullet for forensic examination.
The European Union has urged an “independent” probe while the United States demanded the killing be “transparently investigated”, calls echoed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
But senior PA official Hussein Al-Sheikh, a close Abbas confidant, said the Palestinian “investigation would be completed independently”.
He added that Abu Akleh’s family, the United States, Qatar and “all official authorities” would be informed of the results.
An initial autopsy and forensic examination were conducted in Nablus in the Israel-occupied West Bank hours after her death, but no final conclusions have been disclosed.
A source in the Palestinian attorney general’s office said the results of a preliminary report on the bullet were expected as early as Thursday evening.
– New Jewish settlements –
In a move likely to further inflame West Bank tensions, Israel on Thursday advanced plans for 4,427 Jewish settler homes.
Some 475,000 settlers live in the West Bank, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.
Settlement monitor Peace Now warned the announcement “deepens the occupation,” while right-wing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a member of Bennett’s religious nationalist Yamina party, hailed “day of celebration for the settler movement.”
The Civil Administration’s high planning committee gave final approval to 2,791 units and initial endorsement for another 1,636 units, Peace Now said.
Tensions have again risen with a wave of attacks that have killed at least 18 people in Israel since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.
A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.