Slain Al Jazeera journalist to be laid to rest in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AP) – Thousands of Palestinians are expected to attend the funeral on Friday in Jerusalem of an Al Jazeera journalist who witnesses said was shot dead by Israeli forces earlier this week while covering a military operation in the occupied West Bank.

Recent days have seen an outpouring of grief from across the Palestinian territories and the wider Arab world over the death of Shireen Abu Akleh, a veteran on-air correspondent who spent a quarter century covering the harsh realities of life under Israeli military rule, which is well into its sixth decade with no end in sight.

A funeral service will be held on Friday afternoon at a Catholic church in Jerusalem’s Old City before her body is taken to a nearby cemetery for burial. Large crowds are expected to attend amid a heightened Israeli police presence. Qatar-based Al Jazeera said its managing director, Ahmad Alyafei, would travel to Jerusalem to attend the funeral.

Israel has called for a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority and for it to hand over the bullet for forensic analysis to determine who fired the fatal round. The PA has refused, saying it will conduct its own investigation and take the case to the International Criminal Court, which is already investigating possible Israeli war crimes.

Either side is likely to cast doubt on any conclusions reached by the other, and there did not appear to be any possibility of a third party carrying out an independent probe.

The PA and Al Jazeera accused Israel of deliberately killing Abu Akleh within hours of her death. Israel says a full investigation is needed before any conclusions can be drawn as to whether the fatal shot was fired by its forces or Palestinian militants.

Rights groups say Israel rarely follows through on investigations into the killing of Palestinians by its security forces and hands down lenient punishments on the rare occasions when it does.

Abu Akleh, 51, had joined Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language service in 1997 and rose to prominence covering the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising against Israeli rule, in the early 2000s. The veteran reporter was a widely respected member of the local press corps.

She was shot in the head early Wednesday while covering an Israeli arrest raid in the West Bank town of Jenin. Palestinians from in and around Jenin have carried out a series of deadly attacks inside Israel in recent weeks, and Israel has launched near daily arrest raids in the area, often igniting gunbattles with militants.

Israeli troops pushed into Yen again early Friday. An Associated Press photographer heard heavy gunfire and explosions, and said Israeli troops had surrounded a home.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said 11 Palestinians were hospitalized after being wounded in the fighting, including one who was shot in the stomach. The Israeli military tweeted that Palestinians opened fire when its forces went in to arrest suspected militants.

Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or militants in the immediate area when she was killed early Wednesday. All of them were wearing protective equipment that clearly identified them as reporters.

Israel says its forces came under heavy fire from militants in different parts of the city that day. Israeli officials initially suggested Abu Akleh may have been struck by Palestinian gunfire but later backtracked and now say they have not yet reached any firm conclusions.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem – including the Old City and its holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims – in the 1967 war. The Palestinians want both territories as part of their future state. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.

Police went to Abu Akleh’s family home in Jerusalem the day she was killed and have shown up at other mourning events in the city to remove Palestinian flags. Tensions are running high ahead of the funeral.

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Associated Press reporters Majdi Mohammed in Jenin, West Bank, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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