The United Nations Security Council has unanimously condemned the killing of Palestinian American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the occupied West Bank.

The statement, a rare case of Security Council unity on an issue related to Israel, also called for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation” into her death.

The UN’s Human Rights Office also called for a probe into the killing, saying it might constitute a war crime.

A press statement was approved by the 15 council members after language was removed emphasising the importance of media freedom and the need for journalists working in dangerous areas to be protected at the insistence of China and Russia, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private.

The council statement reiterated “that journalists should be protected as civilians” and also condemned the injury to Abu Akleh’s colleague.

‘Whitewashing’

According to diplomats who spoke to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity, the negotiations in the Security Council on Friday were particularly arduous.

Sources said China pushed the United States to remove paragraphs condemning abuses committed against the media around the world.

However, a high ranking Chinese official told Al Jazeera that Beijing was one of the members that initiated the statement on the killing, and when the initial draft did not mention Israel it pushed for it to include that it was carried out “by the Israel security forces” or “while covering the Israel security operations”.

The official said China had requested the deletion of certain paragraphs from the draft to keep the text focused on Abu Akleh’s killing and the Israeli occupation, and avoid “whitewashing” the issue.

Abu Akleh, an internationally respected veteran journalist for Al Jazeera, was shot by Israeli armed forces as she covered a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. She was wearing a helmet and a vest that clearly identified her as a journalist.

Al Jazeera has said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.

Anger at Abu Akleh’s killing escalated on Friday when Israeli riot police pushed and beat pallbearers, causing them to briefly drop her casket in a shocking start to her funeral procession. The Security Council statement made no mention of the violence.

Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to prevent Abu Akleh’s coffin from falling to the ground as baton-wielding Israeli police officers charged at them, grabbing Palestinian flags from mourners.

The attacks were condemned by Al Jazeera as “a scene that violates all norms and international laws”.

‘Blatant murder’

The Israeli military said its initial investigation into Abu Akleh’s death showed that a heavy firefight was under way in Jenin approximately 200 metres (220 yards) from where she was killed, but it was unable to determine whether she was shot by Israeli forces or Palestinian fighters.

In a statement issued on Friday, the military said Palestinian gunmen recklessly fired hundreds of rounds at an Israeli military vehicle, some in the direction of where Abu Akleh was standing. It said Israeli forces returned fire, and that without doing ballistic analysis, it was not able to determine who was responsible for her death.

Reporters who were with Abu Akleh, including one who was shot and wounded, said there were no clashes or fighters in the immediate area when she was killed.

Al Jazeera has accused Israel of “blatant murder” and has called for an independent investigation into her death.

The UN experts noted Abu Akleh’s killing came amid rising violence in the occupied West Bank and Gaza in recent years.

Last year, according to the statement, marked the highest number of Palestinian deaths resulting from confrontations with Israelis since 2014. It also came amid a high rate of attacks against Palestinian journalists.

Negotiations on the Security Council statement were led by Norway, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. Norway’s UN Ambassador Mona Juul commended the “good collaboration,” calling the protection of journalists a priority for her country.

“We are particularly concerned about the rising trend in attacks on media workers, and on women journalists in particular,” Juul said in a statement.


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