Violence clouds Jerusalem funeral of Al Jazeera journalist
NEWS DIGEST – Thousands of people packed Jerusalem’s tense Old City on Friday for the burial of veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, after Israeli police stormed the start of the funeral procession.
Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Akleh’s coffin from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police officers charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags from mourners.
The White House described the scenes as “deeply disturbing” while the European Union said it was “appalled” by the “unnecessary force” used by Israeli police before and during the funeral.
The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured during the procession, of whom six were hospitalised.
Israeli police said they made six arrests. A government official said mourners had thrown “rocks and glass bottles”.
In the occupied West Bank, an Israeli commando was killed during a fresh shootout with Palestinian gunmen near the flashpoint city of Jenin. The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible.
Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the fatal shooting of Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in Jenin on Wednesday.
The Israeli 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.
Al Jazeera has said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.
Abu Akleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, was a hugely revered reporter and her funeral in her native Jerusalem drew massive crowds.
As her body left St Joseph’s hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed the crowds who were hoisting Palestinian flags.
The Jewish state forbids public displays of Palestinian flags and routinely intervenes against those who parade them at demonstrations or other gatherings.
Police said they had warned the crowd to stop “nationalistic” songs and were forced to act as “violent rioters (were) trying to disrupt the proper course of the funeral.”
But prominent Palestinian figure Hanan Ashrawi said the police charge on pallbearers showed Israel’s “inhumanity.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We regret the intrusion of what should have been a peaceful procession.”
Asked if she condemned the Israeli forces’ actions, she responded: “I think when we said they were disturbing, we obviously were not justifying them.”
US President Joe Biden discussed ways to address the rising violence in White House talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
“The leaders… discussed urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce tensions,” the White House said in a statement.
The French consulate general said “police violence” at the hospital had been “deeply shocking”.
Thousands of Palestinian mourners attempted to follow the coffin towards the cemetery just outside the walled Old City.
Police briefly attempted to prevent them but ultimately relented, allowing thousands to stream towards the graveside, and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were waved, AFP reporters said.
‘Sister of all Palestinians’
In a sign of Abu Akleh’s prominence, she was given what was described as a full state memorial service on Thursday at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s compound in Ramallah before being transferred to Jerusalem.
“Her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts,” said mourner Hadil Hamdan.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.
Israel has publicly called for a joint probe and stressed the need for Palestinian authorities to hand over the fatal bullet for forensic examination, but the Palestinian Authority has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.
Grief over her killing spilt beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests erupting in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.
She “was the sister of all Palestinians,” her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.
Fresh violence erupted in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp.
The Israeli officer killed was identified as Noam Raz, a 47 year old father of six. Police said he was wounded “during a shootout with armed terrorists,” and later died.
The Palestinian health ministry said 13 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, one of them seriously.
An AFP photographer said Israeli forces had surrounded the home of a suspect, besieging two men inside and firing anti-tank grenades at the house in an effort to flush them out.
Tensions were already running high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.
A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.