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Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Al Jazeera files case at ICC over journalist’s killing

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The Palestinian-American journalist was shot in the head during an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank in May.

The Israeli military concluded that one of its soldiers probably killed her, but called her death unintentional.

Al Jazeera said that was completely unfounded and that its evidence showed it was a “deliberate killing”.

Outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said: “No-one will investigate [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers and no-one will preach to us about morals in warfare, certainly not Al Jazeera.”

Israel does not recognise the ICC’s authority and has refused to co-operate with an investigation by the Hague-based court’s prosecutor into possible war crimes in the occupied territories.

Shireen Abu Aqla, who was 51, went to the Jenin refugee camp on 11 May to report for Al Jazeera’s Arabic TV channel on an Israeli raid which had seen gun battles break out between soldiers and Palestinian militants.

She was wearing a helmet and blue flak jacket marked with the word “press” when she was killed while walking along a road with other journalists, one of whom was also shot and wounded.

Journalists, bystanders and Palestinian officials said the gunfire came from Israeli troops stationed about 200m (656ft) away – allegations which was later backed by investigations by the UN and multiple media organisations.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) initially said that it was not possible to know who killed Abu Aqla. But in September a senior official told journalists that there was a high probability that she was shot “by mistake by an IDF soldier, and of course he didn’t identify her as a journalist”.

Al Jazeera, which is based in Doha and funded by the Qatari state, said in a statement on Tuesday that its legal team had conducted a detailed investigation into the killing and “unearthed new evidence”, including eyewitness accounts and multiple videos.

“Al Jazeera has highlighted in its submission to the ICC Prosecutor that the new witness evidence and video footage clearly show that Shireen and her colleagues were directly fired at by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF),” it said. “The claim by the Israeli authorities that Shireen was killed by mistake in an exchange of fire is completely unfounded.”

“The evidence presented to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) confirms, without any doubt, that there was no firing in the area where Shireen was, other than the IOF [Israeli Occupation Forces] shooting directly at her. The journalists were in full view of the IOF as they walked as a group slowly down the road with their distinctive media vests, and there were no other persons in the road.”

The statement added: “The evidence shows that this deliberate killing was part of a wider campaign to target and silence Al Jazeera.”

Rodney Dixon KC, a lawyer for Al Jazeera, said the alleged campaign included the Israeli air strike that destroyed a Gaza City tower block housing the offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press (AP) news agency during a conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in May 2021.

Abu Aqla’s family, who submitted their own complaint to the ICC in September, said they supported Al Jazeera’s submission.

“The evidence is overwhelmingly clear, we expect the ICC to take action,” her niece, Lina Abu Aqla, told a news conference in The Hague.

There was no immediate comment from the ICC, but any individual, group or state can send information to the OTP regarding alleged crimes falling under the jurisdiction of the court. The OTP conducts a preliminary examination to decide whether there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation.

Last month, the US Department of Justice reportedly notified Israel that the FBI had opened an investigation into the killing, following calls from Abu Aqla’s family and members of Congress. Israel’s outgoing defence minister said the decision was a “mistake” and that it would not co-operate.

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