Violence erupts at Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral in Jerusalem as Israeli forces confront Palestinian mourners
There were troubling scenes in the heart of the Middle East on Friday as thousands of Palestinians flocked to Jerusalem to pay their final respects to Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed two days earlier as she covered an army raid in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera said Israel had warned Abu Akleh's brother to limit the size of the funeral procession, and told him no Palestinian flags should be displayed and no slogans chanted. The network said he rejected the caution, which would have been difficult to heed given the outpouring of grief and anger over the reporter's killing.
Video clips aired on Al Jazeera — which has accused Israeli troops of deliberately opening fire on Abu Akleh — showed Israeli riot police pushing and shoving mourners outside a Jerusalem hospital and firing tear gas as people tried to carry her coffin outside the hospital's morgue on Friday.
At one point her casket appeared to nearly topple to the ground amid the melee. Projectiles could be seen flying through the air as Palestinians chanted anti-Israeli slogans.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield tweeted: "Deeply distressed by the images from Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral procession. The tragedy of her killing should be handled with the utmost respect, sobriety, and care." A spokesman said U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also was "deeply disturbed by the confrontations," CBS News' Pamela Falk reports.
Israel had bolstered security in Jerusalem ahead of the funeral, as Palestinian officials continued to back Al Jazeera's allegation that Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli forces. The Palestinian Authority has refused to cooperate with Israel in investigating her death, despite calls from both Israel and the U.S. to do so.
The 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist was killed by an apparent shot to the head as she covered clashes in the West Bank's sprawling Jenin refugee camp, despite wearing protective equipment that clearly labelled her as a member of the press.
While Israel's leader initially claimed it was "likely" she had been hit by fire from Palestinian gunmen firing uncontrollably, the country's military chief accepted the following day that it could have been a shot from an Israeli soldier.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said late Wednesday that it could have been "the Palestinians who shot her," or fire from "our side" — seeming to walk back Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's remarks the previous day about Palestinian gunfire "likely" being to blame.
"We are not certain how she was killed but we want to get to the bottom of this incident and to uncover the truth as much as we can," Gantz said on Wednesday.
Abu Akleh's body was transferred to Jerusalem from the West Bank for the funeral on Friday. The funeral procession began at the hospital in east Jerusalem, with last respects then to be paid at a church in the Old City before her body was laid to rest alongside her parents in a nearby cemetery.
But the violence began as soon as Abu Akleh's casket was carried out of the hospital gates, where Israeli security forces had gathered. Video showed them surging toward the funeral procession before grabbing and roughing up some of the mourners, including those carrying the coffin.
U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut, retweeted a BBC journalist's video showing Israeli forces beating the mourners, calling it "awful to watch" and saying that his staff were "working to get answers about what happened."
Eventually the chaos subsided and the procession moved on to the church. Her coffin was carried, followed by a large crowd, to the cemetery, and there were no signs of further trouble along the way.
Israel's military said Friday that an initial investigation showed there had been a heavy exchange of gunfire between security forces and Palestinians about 200 yards from where Abu Akleh was killed on Wednesday, but that it was unable to determine which side fired the fatal shot.
In a statement, the military repeated the Israeli government's assertion that Palestinian gunmen had been firing recklessly, including at an Israeli military vehicle near where the journalist was hit.
The military said without a ballistic analysis of the round that killed Abu Akleh, it could not determine who shot the journalist. Palestinian authorities have not allowed Israeli officials access to the bullet that killed the Al Jazeera reporter.
CBS News' Khaled Wassef contributed to this report.
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