May 20, 2022

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Tensions high ahead of Al Jazeera journalist's funeral in Jerusalem

Tensions high ahead of Al Jazeera journalist’s funeral in Jerusalem

Israel bolstered security in Jerusalem ahead of the funeral on Friday of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, two days after she was killed during an Israeli army raid.

Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the fatal shooting of the 51-year-old Palestinian-American during clashes in the Jenin refugee camp.

The body of Abu Akleh, a Palestinian Christian born in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, was transferred to the holy city from the occupied West Bank.

The funeral procession would begin at a hospital in east Jerusalem, and last respects would be paid at a church in the Old City, Al Jazeera said, with her body set to be buried alongside her parents in a nearby cemetery.

Thousands of mourners are expected to attend the funeral, an Israeli police spokeswoman told AFP.

Roads would be closed for the procession, the spokeswoman said, with extra forces deployed to “ensure the funeral takes place safely and without violence that could endanger participants or others”.

In a sign of Abu Akleh’s prominence, she was given what was described as a full state memorial on Thursday at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s compound in Ramallah.

Thousands lined the route as her coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was driven through the West Bank city, where a street is to be renamed in her honour.

Many held flowers, wreaths and pictures of the journalist, who has been widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism.

“Her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts,” said mourner Hadil Hamdan.

‘Sister of all Palestinians’
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 has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.

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Immediately after the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said it was “likely” Abu Akleh was killed by stray Palestinian gunfire.

But hours later, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her” or fire from “our side”.

While reporting in Jenin, Abu Akleh was wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word “Press”.

She “was the sister of all Palestinians,” her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.

Israel has also issued a public call for a joint probe, stressing the need for Palestinian authorities to hand over the fatal bullet for forensic examination.

But Abbas said the proposal had been rejected.

“This crime should not go unpunished,” he said during the Ramallah memorial, adding the Palestinian Authority held Israel “completely responsible” for her death.

New violence

PA official Hussein al-Sheikh, a close Abbas confidant, said the Palestinian “investigation would be completed independently”.

An initial autopsy and forensic examination were conducted in Nablus in the West Bank hours after her death.

Fresh violence erupted on Friday in the northern West Bank during an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp.

The Palestinian health ministry said 13 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, one of them seriously.

An AFP photographer at the scene said Israeli forces had surrounded the home of a suspect, besieging two men inside and firing anti-tank grenades at the house in an effort to flush them out.

As the standoff continued, loudspeakers in the camp could be heard calling on others to “go out and stand up to occupation forces”, the photographer added.

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The Israeli army said its forces were acting to “apprehend terrorist suspects”, circulating a video of what it said was “Palestinian gunmen near Jenin (firing) recklessly and indiscriminately” during the operation.

In a separate incident near Ramallah, soldiers “identified a suspect throwing a brick at an Israeli car and trying to open its doors near Beit El” settlement, the army said.

“The force called on him to stop and eventually opened fire at the suspect, who was wounded and taken to a hospital,” the army said, noting “a knife and bottle of acid were found on his person.”

Tensions had already 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.