An examination of the bullet that killed Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was completed at the US embassy in Jerusalem and the round was handed back to Palestinian authorities, the Qatar-based news network reported (Arabic link) Sunday evening.
Palestinian Justice Minister Mohammed al-Shalaldeh told the network that the bullet was returned on Sunday and authorities were now awaiting the results of the analysis, which were expected sometime on Monday, according to the report.
Experts say ballistic analysis could shed definitive light on Abu Akleh’s death. The veteran Palestinian-American correspondent, 51, was killed under disputed circumstances in Jenin as she covered an Israeli army raid in mid-May alongside a team of other journalists.
Shalaldeh said an independent investigation should now be conducted “so that we understand exactly what happened, who is responsible, and why.”
Since Abu Akleh holds American citizenship, Washington has “a right to request this bullet for the purposes of conducting a comprehensive and impartial investigation into the killing…and we in the Palestinian Authority welcome that,” said Shalaldeh.
The results were expected on Monday, according to the Al Jazeera report.
The Palestinian Authority has insisted for weeks that it would not hand over the bullet or conduct a joint investigation with Israel. But in an about-face, Ramallah transferred the bullet to the US embassy for an American examination on Saturday night.
It was not clear which side — the American or the Israeli — led the analysis but Israel said Sunday that its experts would examine the bullet, disputing Palestinian claims that US experts would carry out the forensic analysis.
Israeli army spokesperson Ran Kochav said Sunday the examination would occur “in the presence of the Americans.”
“The professional Israeli examination will take place in the presence of the Americans. If there is a match between the shell and the weapons of Israeli soldiers, we will inform the public,” Kochav told Radio 103FM.
Al Jazeera Palestinian sources who said the analysis was conducted in “the presence of an Israeli expert.” The PA has refused to send an expert from their side.
Abu Akleh’s death has been the subject of dueling probes by Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
During the May raid, a firefight broke out between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen. At some point, Abu Akleh was shot in the head.
The PA’s investigation found that she had been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers.
Israel initially blamed Palestinian gunmen for the shooting, but later acknowledged that Abu Akleh could also have been killed by Israeli soldiers. Israeli authorities have even identified a gun that may have fired the fatal shot — but say they cannot definitively establish the matter without forensic analysis.
The bullet was handed over to a senior US military official on Saturday. Palestinian Authority chief prosecutor Akram al-Khatib had said American ballistics experts would examine the shell, not Israel.
“The bullet that killed Shireen Abu Akleh will not be transferred to the Israeli side,” al-Khatib said in a statement on Saturday night.
But Kochav appears to have disputed those claims on Sunday, telling Army Radio that an American general would observe the Israeli investigation as long as the bullet was in Israel.
“This is an Israeli examination, an Israeli investigation, with an American presence. The Palestinians who so kindly transferred the bullet did so in order for there to be an Israeli investigation with an American presence,” he said.
Israel had offered to conduct a joint investigation with Ramallah ever since Abu Akleh was shot. Israeli officials have said that ballistic analysis to match the gun with the bullet is necessary to determine whether an Israeli soldier fired the fatal round.
The PA has repeatedly rejected those offers, as has Abu Akleh’s family. Palestinian officials initially refused to share the round with the United States, saying that they would share the results of their own probe with interested parties.
The US had urged Ramallah to share the results of its investigation with Israel so as to shed potentially definitive light on the incident.
In a public letter in early June, a bipartisan group of 25 US lawmakers urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure the PA to release the bullet.
“We urge you to ask the Palestinian Authority to provide access to the forensic evidence in Abu Akleh’s death for an independent investigation so that all parties can reach a definitive conclusion about the events leading to her death, and hold all parties accountable,” the lawmakers wrote