Slain Palestinian American journalist’s funeral is held, under heavy Israeli guard


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JERUSALEM — The funeral of slain Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh began in chaos Friday, after Israeli police beat mourners with batons after they tried to carry her coffin on their shoulders and initially refused to let it travel to a church in a hearse.

Abu Akleh was shot dead Wednesday while covering an Israeli military raid in the West Bank. Large crowds formed early Friday at the entrance to St. Joseph’s Hospital in East Jerusalem, where her body had rested overnight.

Israeli police prevented crowds carrying Abu Akleh’s coffin from leaving the hospital compound, beating mourners with batons until the coffin almost dropped to the ground. After the coffin was loaded into a hearse, it was allowed to leave the hospital compound, under heavy Israeli security guard.

Before the ceremony, numerous police were visible along the planned route of a procession that was to carry Abu Akleh through Jerusalem’s Old City to a Christian cemetery on the Mount of Olives, where she is to be buried in a family plot. The funeral marked the second day of memorial events honoring Abu Akleh, a widely admired journalist viewed by Palestinians as the latest victim of the Israeli occupation.

A ceremony in Ramallah on Thursday attracted a crowd of several thousand West Bank mourners, many of whom sobbed and rushed to touch the coffin of a figure who had grown familiar in living rooms across the Arab world in her two decades on the air. A procession then carried her body across an armed Israeli checkpoint into Jerusalem.

For Palestinian journalists, a colleague’s death hits close to home

On Friday, in the minutes before the procession left the hospital, several dozen Muslim men lined up for Friday prayers, kneeling in the hospital parking lot. Behind them two mourners held up large floral crosses. Then the crowd gathered, with Palestinian flags waving.

Israeli police and Border Police in significant numbers watched from outside the enclosed parking lots.

“God is greatest,” some chanted in Arabic. “From Jerusalem to Jenin, God bless your soul Shireen.”

The crowd prevented a hearse from backing up to the hospital door, intent on carrying her body on its shoulders at least part of the way to the cemetery. Abu Akleh’s brother, sitting on someone’s shoulders, beseeched the crowd to let the hearse through. “For God’s sake, let us put her in the car and finish the day,” he said.

“On the shoulder on the shoulder!” people chanted, and beat the hearse with sticks until it pulled away for a second time. The coffin was carried out of the hospital on the shoulders of mourners, followed by a stretcher carrying a journalist’s blue, bullet-resistant vest.

Within minutes, though, Israeli police had entered the hospital parking lot and were beating back the mourners, as people scattered and Abu Akleh’s coffin fell toward the ground.

Israeli security agencies had said they were braced for the possibility of clashes Friday, especially in areas around the Old City that have been the scene of fighting between police and Palestinian protesters in recent weeks. Officers had been advised to “minimize friction” with funeral goers, according to local media reports.

Abu Akleh’s killing has emerged as the latest flash point in the chronic tension between Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The journalist’s colleagues and the Palestinian Authority have accused the Israeli military of deliberately targeting the small group of reporters who had arrived to cover a raid in the Jenin Refugee Camp on Wednesday.

Israel maintains that she was caught in a crossfire between soldiers and Palestinian militants, although the Israeli military has said it is actively investigating the possibility that the fatal shot came from one its soldiers.

Two reporters who were with Shireen and several other witnesses have told The Washington Post that no firefight was happening near the spot where she was killed.

The stories of five journalists killed covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Israel has been pushing to Palestinian authorities to share forensic and ballistic evidence with Israeli investigators, a request that Palestinian officials have so far flatly rejected. International diplomats are reportedly seeking to broker a joint or shared investigation, possibly including experts from a neutral third country.

A Palestinian forensics expert reported on findings Wednesday that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was not fired at close range but that it was not yet possible to determine whether it had come from an Israeli weapon. The caliber, reportedly a 5.56×45mm round, is commonly used by M-16s and other weapons used by both IDF and Palestinian fighters.

Palestinian officials refused Thursday to turn the bullet over for Israeli analysis. The IDF said it had secured the weapons of soldiers at the scene in case they are allowed access to the bullet for a balletic comparison.

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