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US senator says Abu Akleh report 'does not shed new light' on shooter's intent

Chris Van Hollen said investigators were blocked from accessing key witnesses and called on Biden administration to fully declassify report
Palestinians attend a protest demanding US President Joe Biden to achieve justice for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City on 13 July 2022.
Palestinians attend a protest demanding justice for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City, on 13 July 2022 (Reuters)
By MEE staff in Washington

US Senator Chris Van Hollen has said that the administration's report on the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh is unable to provide new information on the death because Washington's investigation was blocked from access to key witnesses.

Van Hollen, who was finally able to take a look at the report on Abu Akleh's killing at the hands of Israeli forces after weeks of demanding it from the State Department, commended the Biden administration for completing the review but added he had been made aware the US wasn't allowed access to certain witnesses.

"The USSC and his team were not granted access to key witnesses and therefore were unable to conduct an independent investigation into the shooting death of Shireen Abu Akleh," Van Hollen said in a statement on Monday afternoon.

"As such, this summation report does not and cannot shed new light on the state of mind of the individual responsible for firing the fatal shot".

The senator added that the report, which still remains classified, does provide some insights into the unit in the Israeli forces that were operating in the area during her shooting.

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He further called on the administration to fully declassify the report.

"Following my viewing of the USSC report, I urge the Administration to immediately declassify it in its entirety," he said.

"I strongly believe that its public release is vital to ensuring transparency and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and to avoiding future preventable and wrongful deaths – goals we should all support."

Demands for US probe

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American veteran journalist at Al Jazeera Arabic, was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May 2022 while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in the occupied West Bank. Her colleague Ali al-Samoudi was also shot and injured.

Israel first accused Palestinian gunmen of shooting her, but then later a statement on the Israeli investigation said "there is a high possibility that Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF [Israeli army] gunfire that was fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen".

The Israeli Military Advocate General's Office said it would not open an investigation into any soldiers involved in the incident as "there is no suspicion that a criminal offence was committed".

'Run out of patience': US senator demands report on Shireen Abu Akleh killing
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Last July, the State Department used an initial summary from the USSC to conclude that Israeli gunfire likely killed Abu Akleh, but there was no reason to believe it was intentional.

The report viewed by Van Hollen is more substantive than the initial summary, however, the full details of it remain unknown to the public.

The senator's viewing of the report comes after he blasted the State Department's delay last week during a Senate hearing.

"I'm a dear friend of the Foreign Service, but I can tell you I'm at the end of my rope in terms of a simple request for a report," he said.

Over the past year, dozens of US lawmakers have called for Washington to conduct an independent investigation into the killing, noting that Abu Akleh was an American citizen.

In November, the US Department of Justice had begun a probe into the killing. However, the White House later informed Israel that it was not behind the investigation.

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