Jerusalem (CNN) – The Israel Defense Forces have admitted for the first time that there is a “high possibility” Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israeli fire while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in May, the IDF announced Monday.
“[I]t appears that it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh. However, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire,” the IDF said in a statement.
A senior IDF official who briefed journalists on the findings of the military’s investigation before they were released said the IDF troops did not know they were shooting at the press, and said that Abu Akleh’s back “probably” being turned to the soldiers was a contributing factor. In images from the scene of the shooting, Abu Akleh is wearing a protective vest that is labeled “PRESS” on both the front and back.
“When they were firing in that direction, the soldiers were not aware they were firing at journalists. They thought they were firing at militants firing at them,” the IDF official said.
‘They were shooting directly at the journalists’: New evidence suggests Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in targeted attack by Israeli forces
When asked about investigations, including CNN’s, that found no militants near Abu Akleh when she was killed, the official said: “It is our estimate that there were militants in the vicinity of Ms. Abu Abkleh. Maybe not one meter beside her but they were in that area,” but the official did not provide evidence to support that claim.
“When the soldier made that decision, it was a blink of a decision,” the official said. “The soldier did not intend to injure an Al Jazeera journalist or [journalist] from any other network.”
“The soldier is sorry, and I am sorry. This was not supposed to happen and it should not happen. He did not do this on purpose,” the official said. He did not name the soldier.
When she was killed, Abu Akleh was accompanied by a group of other journalists, including her producer Ali al-Samoudi, who was wounded in the incident.
According to the Palestinian autopsy, Abu Akleh was killed by a single bullet to the back of the head.