JERUSALEM (AP) — The U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation into the fatal shooting of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, Israel confirmed Monday, condemning the probe as a “grave mistake” and vowing not to cooperate.
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz made the statement on Twitter, saying Israel has made it clear to the U.S. “that we won't cooperate with any external investigation."
“We will not allow interference in Israel’s internal affairs,” he added.
A Palestinian who covered Israeli operations in the Palestinian territories for years, Abu Akleh was also a U.S. citizen.
A Justice Department spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Gantz’s statement. It was not immediately clear when the investigation might have begun and what it would entail. But a probe by the U.S. into Israeli actions was a rare step that could shake the strong alliance between the two countries.
Palestinian officials, Abu Akleh’s family and Al Jazeera accuse Israel of intentionally targeting and killing the 51-year-old journalist, who was wearing a helmet and a protective vest marked with the word “press” when she was shot last May in the occupied West Bank.
She had covered the West Bank for Al Jazeera for two decades and was a well-known face across the Arab world. Her death reverberated across the region.
Abu Akleh's family did not immediately respond to requests for comment late Monday, nor did Palestinian Foreign Ministry officials. A spokeswoman for outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid declined to comment, and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is expected to return to lead the country in the coming weeks, also had no immediate comment.
Israel has acknowledged that Israeli fire probably killed Abu Akleh, but vigorously denied allegations that a soldier intentionally targeted her.
It is not unusual for the FBI or other U.S. investigators to mount probes into non-natural deaths or injuries of American citizens abroad, particularly if they are government employees.
However, such separate investigations are not the rule and it is rare, if not unprecedented, for them to occur in a U.S.-allied country like Israel that is recognized in Washington as having a credible and independent judicial system.
Critics have long accused the military of doing a poor job of investigating wrongdoing by its troops and seldom holding forces accountable. Following their own investigation into the death, Israeli authorities decided not to launch a criminal investigation.