JERUSALEM: Israel's police chief on Saturday ordered an investigation into the actions of officers at the funeral of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, after they charged the procession and beat pallbearers, sparking global outrage.
Thousands of mourners packed Jerusalem's Old City on Friday for the burial of the 51-year-old Al Jazeera reporter. The Palestinian-American was killed two days earlier during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.
Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Akleh's casket from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags.
“The Israel Police Commissioner in coordination with the Minister of Public Security has instructed that an investigation be conducted into the incident,“ the police said in a statement.
They had coordinated funeral arrangements with the journalist's family but “rioters tried to sabotage the ceremony and harm the police,“ it said.
“As with any operational incident, and certainly an incident in which police officers were exposed to violence by rioters and in which force was subsequently used by the police, the Israel Police will be looking into the events that ensued during the funeral,“ it added.
The United States was “deeply troubled to see the images of Israeli police intruding into her funeral procession,“ Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Friday.
The European Union condemned what it said was “unnecessary force” used by the Israeli police.
On Saturday the foundation of late South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said scenes of Israeli police attacking the pallbearers were “chillingly reminiscent” of what happened during the funerals of anti-apartheid activists.
Israel and the Palestinians traded blame after Abu Akleh was shot in the head on Wednesday near Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. She had been wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest marked “Press”.
Israel's army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes.
The Palestinian public prosecution said an initial probe showed “the only origin of the shooting was the Israeli occupation forces”.
Al Jazeera said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.
In a rare, unanimous statement, the UN Security Council condemned the killing, calling for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation,“ diplomats said.
- Massive crowds -
Abu Akleh, a Christian, was a highly respected reporter and her funeral drew massive crowds.
As her body left St Joseph's hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, police stormed the mourners who had hoisted Palestinian flags.
Police said about “300 rioters” had arrived at the hospital for the procession and “prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse to travel to the cemetery -- as had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance”.
The police then intervened “to disperse the mob and prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned”, they said, adding glass bottles and other objects were thrown at officers.
The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured, of whom six were hospitalised. Police said they arrested six people.
Officers then tried briefly to prevent thousands of mourners from following the coffin to the cemetery, but ultimately relented and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were raised, AFP reporters said.
The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into her killing.
Israel has publicly called for a joint probe, which the Palestinian Authority has rejected.
A PA official said on Saturday that the authority would welcome the “participation of all international bodies in the investigation”.
“What happened in her funeral yesterday by the #occupation forces reinforces our position that rejects #Israel‘s participation in this investigation,“ Hussein al-Sheikh added on Twitter.
She “was the sister of all Palestinians,“ her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.
Fresh violence erupted Friday in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp that claimed the life of an Israeli officer.
Tensions were already running high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 19 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.
A total of 32 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.-AFP