Incoming White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday that the US government condemns the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a US citizen who was fatally shot while covering an Israeli raid in the West Bank.
Abu Akleh was wearing a blue bulletproof vest that said “PRESS” when she was hit by gunfire in the town of Jenin, south of Nazareth. An injured colleague claimed Israeli troops shot her in the face, but the Israeli government is blaming Palestinian militants.
“We strongly condemn the killing of Al Jazeera journalist and American citizen Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin today and we extend our deepest condolences to her family,” Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One while en route to Chicago.
“We call for a thorough investigation to determine the circumstances of her death. Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance,” Jean-Pierre added. “We will continue to promote media freedom and protect journalists’ ability to do their jobs without fear of violence, threats to their lives for safety or unjust detention.”
Jean-Pierre said she had no information about whether President Biden intends to call the family of the 51-year-old journalist, or if the killing would alter a planned presidential trip to Israel next month.
Abu Akleh “was shot in the face by a single bullet, despite wearing a press vest,” Al Jazeera said in its coverage of the reporter’s death.
A statement from the news channel, which is owned by Qatar’s government, said, “In a blatant murder, violating international laws and norms, the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Palestine, Shireen Abu Akleh.”
Al Jazeera producer Ali Samoudi told NPR that Israeli soldiers allowed the reporter and her crew to approach a home that was surrounded before three shots were fired — one of which struck Abu Akleh. Samoudi added that he believes Israeli troops were responsible.
But Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, “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.”
A photo from the scene shows Abu Akleh lying on the ground next to a shell-shocked female colleague. Both women were wearing helmets and vests that said PRESS.
Abu Akleh had worked for Al Jazeera since 1997. She was born in Jerusalem to a Palestinian Christian family.
Israeli troops were conducting the raid amid an upswing in tensions between Palestinians and Israeli authorities, including recent clashes in Jerusalem and acts of terrorism.
The killing of Abu Akleh threatens to sour US-Israeli relations after the Trump administration, led by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in 2020 brokered the establishment of diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab states.
Al Jazeera has a permanent seat in the White House briefing room and its coverage of protests against authoritarian governments in the Middle East contributed to a years-long rift between Qatar and a Saudi-led coalition that included Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which unsuccessfully demanded that the news outlet be shut down.