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IDF: There is a 'high possibility' Palestinian journalist shot by Israel forces

Palestinian journalist holds a portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by gunfire in Jenin, during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 11. Israel Defense Forces said on Monday there was a "high possibility" she was killed by Israeli military gunfire. File Photo by Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA-EFE
Palestinian journalist holds a portrait of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed by gunfire in Jenin, during a protest in the West Bank city of Hebron, on May 11. Israel Defense Forces said on Monday there was a "high possibility" she was killed by Israeli military gunfire. File Photo by Abed Al Hashlamoun/EPA-EFE

Sept. 5 (UPI) -- The Israel Defense Forces on Monday said that there is a "high possibility" Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was accidentally shot and killed by its service members in May but will not pursue criminal charges.

Abu Akleh, who was working for Al Jazeera, was killed and her colleague Ali Sammoudi was injured on May 11 while the IDF was conducting an operation in the West Bank.

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In its own investigation, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in June that Abu Akleh was killed by shots fired by Israeli Security Forces and not by indiscriminate fire from armed Palestinians.

The IDF said in a statement that while it is impossible to "unequivocally" determine who fatally shot the journalist, it is "most likely that she was accidentally hit by IDF fire, which was fired at those identified as Palestinian militants."

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"At the same time, it will be emphasized and made clear that throughout the incident, the fire of IDF soldiers was aimed and intended to hit terrorist who fired at our forces," the IDF said, adding that the possibility still exists that Abu Akleh "was hit by gunfire from Palestinian militants."

Though admitting for the first time that Abu Akleh's death was most likely the result of an Israeli soldier, the IDF's Military Advocate General's Office said in a separate statement that they will not pursue charges.

"There is no suspicion of a criminal offense warranting the opening of an investigation by the Ministry of Defense to clarify the circumstances of the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh," it said.

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Al Jazeera has complained that Abu Akleh was intentionally targeted by Israeli forces. Witnesses told CNN, which was supported by security video at the time of the shooting, that there was no combat activity or Palestinian militants in Abu Akleh's location at the time of the shooting.

Abu Akleh was wearing a protective vest that is labeled "PRESS" on the front and back at the time she was shot.

Al Jazeera condemned the report as an attempt to evade criminal responsibility for its reporter's death.

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"Al Jazeera condemns the Israeli Occupation Forces' reluctance to explicitly admit their crime and attempts to evade the prosecution of the perpetrators," it said in a statement. "The Network demands that an independent international body investigates the assassination of Shireen Abu Akleh to achieve justice for her, her family and fellow journalists around the world."

The IDF report maintains that Abu Akleh was shot during an exchange of "indiscriminate and life-threatening" gunfire toward IDF soldiers.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, who ordered the investigation, said he has found no evidence that Abu Akleh was intentionally fired upon.

"Our family is not surprised by this outcome since it's obvious to anyone that Israeli war criminals cannot investigate their own crimes," Abu Akleh's family said in a statement. "However, we remain deeply hurt, frustrated and disappointed."

Since Abu Akleh also had U.S. citizenship, the family called on the Biden administration and the International Criminal Court to hold their own investigations.

Ned Price, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said the United States "welcomes" Israel's review of the reporter's death while calling for policies and procedures to be changed to prevent similar incidents in the future.

"Our thoughts remain with the Abu Akleh family as they grieve this tremendous loss -- and with the many other worldwide who brought Shireen and her news reports into their homes for more than two decades," Price said in a statement. "Not only was Shireen an American citizen, she was a fearless reporter whose journalism and pursuit of truth earned her the respect of audiences around the world."

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Meanwhile, Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, said they stand in solidarity with Abu Akleh's family.

"All the evidence points to Israeli forces having killed her," he tweeted. "The Israeli army probe was a whitewash. Victims of Israeli abuse have faced a wall of impunity for years. We echo the family's call for the U.S. to investigate."

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