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US Senator Calls for Declassification of Report on 2022 Shooting of Al Jazeera Reporter

FILE - Family and friends of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh attend a candle vigil outside the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, May 16, 2022.

U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen says a U.S government report about the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who was shot and killed while covering an Israeli army raid last year, should be declassified.

Abu Akleh, one of the most well-known reporters in the Arab world, was shot in the head and killed on May 11, 2022, while covering an Israeli Defense Forces raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

In remarks on Monday, Van Hollen said he had reviewed a report by the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or USSC, weeks after he requested the State Department release the report to lawmakers in early May.

Israel Apologizes for the Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
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“Following my viewing of the USSC report, I urge the Administration to immediately declassify it in its entirety,” Van Hollen said in a statement. “I strongly believe that its public release is vital to ensuring transparency and accountability in the shooting death of American citizen and journalist Shireen Abu Akleh and to avoiding future preventable and wrongful deaths — goals we should all support.”

At the time of the incident, Abu Akleh and her colleagues were wearing protective gear, with helmets and vests marked “PRESS.” Media and rights group investigations show that Abu Akleh was almost definitely shot by an Israeli sniper.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom group, said it supports Van Hollen's call for the report to be declassified.

"Today's update shows why we at CPJ continue to demand a comprehensive report and a public account from the FBI about their investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing," Sherif Mansour, who covers the Middle East at the CPJ, told VOA in a statement.

Israel said the reporter was likely unintentionally shot by an Israeli soldier but said she also could have been struck by Palestinian forces. Contrary to Israel’s claims, reports indicate there were no Palestinian fighters firing in the area where Abu Akleh was standing, and the shooting occurred during a moment of relative calm, not in a crossfire.

Van Hollen said the still-classified report contains important insights about the reporter’s killing, “including relevant information and findings about the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit involved in that operation — as well as other IDF units operating in the West Bank.”

Van Hollen also said the USSC team was “unable to conduct an independent investigation” due to lack of access to key witnesses, which he said means “this summation report does not and cannot shed new light on the state of mind of the individual responsible for firing the fatal shot.”

Despite that shortcoming, the senator said the report’s public release is still an important step to achieving justice for Abu Akleh.

Abu Akleh’s family believes Israel intentionally targeted the reporter, which Israel denies.