Wednesday, 25 May, 2022
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Tensions high ahead of Al Jazeera journalist funeral in Jerusalem

Israel bolstered security in Jerusalem ahead of the funeral on Friday of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, two days after she was killed during an Israeli army raid.

Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the fatal shooting of the 51-year-old Palestinian-American during clashes in the Jenin refugee camp.

The body of Abu Akleh, a Palestinian Christian born in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, has been transferred to the holy city from the occupied West Bank.

Her coffin began its journey to the drumbeat of a marching band, as crowds chanted slogans demanding an end to Palestinian security cooperation with Israel.

Thousands of mourners are expected to attend the funeral at a church in Jerusalem's Old City in the afternoon, an Israeli police spokeswoman told AFP.

Roads would be closed along the route of the procession, the spokeswoman said, with extra forces deployed to Jerusalem to "ensure the funeral takes place safely and without violence that could endanger participants or others".

In a sign of Abu Akleh's prominence, she was given what was described as a full state memorial on Thursday at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's compound in Ramallah.

Thousands lined the route as her coffin, draped in the Palestinian flag, was driven through the West Bank city, where a street is to be renamed in her honour.

Many held flowers, wreaths and pictures of the journalist, who has been widely hailed for her bravery and professionalism.
"Her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts," said mourner Hadil Hamdan.

'Sister of all Palestinians' 

The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into what Al Jazeera labelled a deliberate killing "in cold blood", but the Palestinian Authority has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.

Immediately after the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had said it was "likely" Abu Akleh was killed by stray Palestinian gunfire.

But hours later, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said it could have been "the Palestinians who shot her" or fire from "our side".

While reporting in Jenin, Abu Akleh was wearing a bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word "Press", as well as a helmet.

Grief over her killing spilled beyond Palestine, with protests erupting in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.

She "was the sister of all Palestinians," her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.

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 Abbas said the proposal had been rejected.

"This crime should not go unpunished," he said during the Ramallah memorial, adding the Palestinian Authority held Israel "completely responsible" for her death.

West Bank violence

The European Union has urged an "independent" probe while the United States demanded the killing be "transparently investigated", calls echoed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

PA official Hussein Al-Sheikh, a close Abbas confidant, said the Palestinian "investigation would be completed independently".

An initial autopsy and forensic examination were conducted in Nablus in the West Bank hours after her death.

Fresh violence erupted on Friday in the northern West Bank, with an Israeli raid on the Jenin refugee camp leaving one Palestinian wounded, according to the Palestinian news agency Wafa.

In a separate incident near Ramallah, soldiers "identified a suspect throwing a block at an Israeli car and trying to open its doors near Beit El" settlement, the army said.

"The force called on him to stop and eventually opened fire at the suspect, who was wounded and taken to a hospital," a statement from the army said, noting "a knife and bottle of acid were found on his person."

Tensions had already risen with a wave of attacks that have killed at least 18 people in Israel 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.