Outcry after Israel police beat mourners at journalist funeral

The US and EU led an international outcry Saturday after Israeli police charged the funeral procession of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and beat pallbearers who almost dropped her coffin.

Thousands of mourners packed Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday for the burial of the 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist, two days after she was killed during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.

Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Akleh’s casket from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags.

Also read | In pics: Palestinians honour Al Jazeera’s slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh

The United States was “deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

The European Union condemned what it said was “unnecessary force” used by the Israeli police.

Israel and the Palestinians traded blame after Abu Akleh was shot in the head on Wednesday near Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. She had been wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest marked “Press”.

Israel’s army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes.

The Palestinian public prosecution said an initial probe showed “the only origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces”.

Al Jazeera said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.

In a rare, unanimous statement, the UN Security Council condemned the killing, calling for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation,” diplomats said.

Watch | Gravitas: Global campaign to hold Israel accountable for journalist’s death

 Massive crowds 

Abu Akleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, was a highly respected reporter and her funeral drew massive crowds.

As her body left St Joseph’s hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed mourners who had hoisted Palestinian flags.

Police said about “300 rioters” had arrived at the hospital for the procession and “prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery — as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance”.

The police then intervened “to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned”, they said, adding glass bottles and other objects were thrown at officers.

The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured, of whom six were hospitalised. The Israeli police said they arrested six people.

Police then tried briefly to prevent thousands of mourners from following the coffin to the cemetery, but ultimately relented and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were raised, AFP reporters said.

Also read | Orphaned Palestinians mourn unarmed mother shot by Israeli soldier

The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into her killing.

Israel has publicly called for a joint probe, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected.

A PA official said on Saturday that the authority would welcome the “participation of all international bodies in the investigation”.

“What happened in her funeral yesterday by the #occupation forces reinforces our position that rejects #Israel’s participation in this investigation,” Hussein al-Sheikh added on Twitter.

Sister of all Palestinians

Grief over Abu Akleh’s killing spread beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests staged in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.

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

Fresh violence erupted Friday in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp that claimed the life of an Israeli officer.

Police said the commando, father of six Noam Raz, was wounded “during a shootout with armed terrorists,” and later died. 

The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible.

Also read | Israel-Palestine conflict: After rocket fire, Israel conducts airstrikes on Gaza

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

An AFP photographer 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.

Tensions were already running high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 18 people 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.

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