WASHINGTON: US officials have concluded that gunfire from Israeli positions likely killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh but that there was "no reason to believe" her shooting was intentional, the State Department said Monday.
The finding, in a statement from State Department spokesman Ned Price, came after what the US said were inconclusive tests under US oversight of the bullet recovered from Abu Akleh's body. It said "independent, third-party examiners" had conducted an "extremely detailed forensic analysis".
"Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion" as to who fired the shot, Price said in the statement.
Abu Akleh, a veteran Palestinian-American correspondent who was well known throughout the Arab world, was shot and killed while covering an Israeli military raid on May 11 in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank.
Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, say Israeli troops killed her and that there were no militants in the immediate vicinity.
Israel says she was killed during a complex battle with Palestinian militants and that only a forensic analysis of the bullet would confirm whether it was fired by an Israeli soldier or a Palestinian militant.
It has strongly denied she was deliberately targeted, but says an Israeli soldier may have hit her by mistake during an exchange of fire with a militant.
US security officials had examined the results of separate Palestinian and Israeli investigations and "concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh", Price said.
"The US found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad," Price said.
The Israeli military presented the findings as part of its own investigation in a statement that was likely to anger the Palestinian Authority, which had adamantly rejected any Israeli role in the probe and refused to share the bullet with Israeli authorities.
The military said that while the bullet remained in the custody of US officials throughout the process, it was examined by Israeli experts in a forensic laboratory in Israel.
Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, the army chief of staff, ordered the investigation be continued "using all available means," the military said in a statement. It said any decision on whether to launch criminal investigation would only be made after the operational investigation is completed.
The Palestinian Authority and Al Jazeera accused Israeli forces of deliberately targeting Abu Akleh within hours of her death.
An Associated Press reconstruction of her killing lent support to accounts by Palestinian eyewitnesses, including her crew, that she was killed by Israeli forces.
Subsequent investigations by CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post reached similar conclusions.