Outcry after Israel police beat mourners at journalist's funeral

US says it is 'deeply troubled' while EU condemns 'unnecessary force' used by police

JERUSALEM • The United States and European Union led an international outcry yesterday 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 Ms Abu Akleh's casket from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags.

The US was "deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession", Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. The EU condemned what it said was "unnecessary force" used by the Israeli police.

Israel's police chief said he has ordered an investigation into officers' actions at the funeral.

Israel and the Palestinians traded blame after Ms Abu Akleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, 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 that 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 United Nations Security Council condemned the killing, calling for "an immediate, thorough, transparent and impartial investigation", diplomats said.

Ms Abu Akleh 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 that 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, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reporters said.

The US and European Union joined the UN in backing calls for a full investigation into her killing.

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

A PA official said yesterday 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," Mr Hussein al-Sheikh added on Twitter.

Grief over Ms 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 eruptedon Friday in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp that claimed the life of an Israeli officer.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 15, 2022, with the headline Outcry after Israel police beat mourners at journalist's funeral. Subscribe