Senator urges release of new US report on Abu Akleh assassination

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By Webdesk

Washington, D.C. – A Maryland senator has called on President Joe Biden’s administration to allow lawmakers access to a report by the US Security Coordinator (USSC) into the assassination of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Democrat Chris Van Hollen said Tuesday he sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging him to make the review “immediately available for Congressional review.”

“I request that you immediately authorize the release of the complete and unedited USSC report under proper classification to me and other interested members of Congress,” the senator wrote to Blinken.

The Biden administration has not acknowledged the existence of the report and it is not clear when the report was submitted. But Van Hollen said his office had been in touch with State Department officials over the past 12 days on the matter.

The USSC oversees and promotes security coordination between Israeli and Palestinian officials. The US State Department did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

In his letter to Blinken dated 1 May, Van Hollen expressed his concern that the government would change the report.

“We were recently informed that before Congress approves the release of the USSC report, the government plans to make unspecified changes to its contents,” the letter reads.

“While the government has characterized the proposed changes as ‘technical,’ any action to alter the USSC summons report in any way would violate the integrity of this process.”

Axios first reported on Van Hollen’s letter earlier on Tuesday before it was publicly released.

Abu Akleh, a US citizen, was fatally shot by Israeli forces on May 11, 2022 during a raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin. Her murder sparked worldwide condemnations and demands for justice.

US officials, including President Joe Biden, have called for accountability in the case, but critics say the US has not done enough to pressure its Israeli allies to secure justice for the slain journalist.

Washington has rejected attempts to hold accountable for the murder of Abu Akleh at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Israel, which rights groups accuse of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians, receives at least $3.8 billion annually in US security aid.

In its first and only public assessment of the shooting to date, the USSC said last July that the Israeli military was “probably responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh.” However, it found “no reason to believe this was intentional, but rather the result of tragic circumstances”.

That conclusion was not the result of a full investigation, US officials said at the time, explaining that it served as a summary of Israeli and Palestinian investigations. A Palestinian Authority investigation had said weeks earlier that Israeli forces had deliberately fired at Abu Akleh “for the purpose of killing”.

In September 2022, Israel said there was a “high probability” that its army fired on Abu Akleh, but dismissed the killing as an accident and refused to launch a criminal investigation into the incident.

U.S. officials at the time welcomed the Israeli assessment and called on Israel to review its military deployment rules to prevent similar shootings in the future, a demand openly rejected by Israeli leaders.

US and Israeli media reported in November that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had launched an investigation into the murder of Abu Akleh and that Israeli officials had vowed not to cooperate with the alleged US investigation.

But the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has declined to confirm the investigation, and the State Department distanced itself from it, referring questions to the DOJ.

Abu Akleh’s supporters will celebrate the first anniversary of her death on May 11, a week after World Press Freedom Day.

In his letter to Blinken, Van Hollen praised the slain veteran Al Jazeera reporter as a “respected and professional journalist”, noting that she was posthumously awarded last year’s President’s Award by the US National Press Club.

“As we approach the one-year anniversary of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death, no one has been held accountable and no independent, official investigation has been completed,” Van Hollen wrote.

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