TEL AVIV—Israeli police launched an investigation into a violent melee that took place before the funeral of a prominent Palestinian-American journalist, amid growing international condemnation of officers who fought with casket bearers trying to march to a Jerusalem church.
Israeli officials have said officers who struck pallbearers Friday were seeking to carry out a plan agreed upon with the family of Shireen Abu Akleh, the 51-year-old Al Jazeera journalist killed last week as she covered an Israeli military raid in the West Bank, to have the body transported in a vehicle.
But in an interview, Ms. Abu Akleh’s brother, Anthony, said police armed with batons began hitting and pushing the men carrying the coffin on their shoulders shortly after the body was brought out of the St. Joseph Hospital morgue before they could reach the car.
Video of the incident showed a chaotic brawl, nearly causing the casket to fall on the ground.
“The car was there, but they did not even give us a chance to get her into it,” Anthony Abu Akleh said. “We were surprised by the attack on the people and the coffin before we got her into the car.”
Family and friends carried the coffin of Shireen Abu Akleh Friday.
The police said in a statement late Friday night that about 300 people outside the hospital “prevented the family members from loading the coffin onto the hearse,” which “had been planned and coordinated with the family in advance.”
The police moved in to “prevent them from taking the coffin, so that the funeral could proceed as planned in accordance with the wishes of the family,” the statement said.
The statement accused mourners of threatening the driver of the vehicle in an attempt to “carry the coffin on an unplanned procession.” It said that “glass bottles and other objects were thrown,” injuring mourners and officers.
In announcing the investigation Saturday, a police spokesperson 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.”
In a statement about Mr. Abu Akleh’s account, the police said people “near the coffin” incited the officers by throwing stones and other objects before the procession began.
The funeral brawl, days after Ms. Abu Akleh was fatally shot in the West Bank city of Jenin, has sparked a diplomatic crisis, prompting White House criticism of the police tactics and a call from President Biden for an investigation.
On Friday evening, the United Nations Security Council condemned Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing, calling for “an immediate, thorough, transparent, and fair and impartial investigation” in a statement unanimously approved by the 15-member body, including the U.S.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry had no comment on the U.N. statement Saturday. An Israeli official said an investigation of Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing “is exactly what we are looking for. We have invited the Palestinians and the USA to be part of the investigation.”
Israeli security forces assaulted mourners before the funeral of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh Friday in a bloody day of violence that saw the death of an Israeli police officer. Photo: Maya Levin/Associated Press
Palestinian officials say Israeli gunfire was the cause of Ms. Abu Akleh’s death. An initial investigation by the Palestinian public prosecutor’s office found that the sole source of gunfire in the area was from Israeli security forces and that there was a group of Israeli officers almost 500 feet from Ms. Abu Akleh. The prosecutor also said that the Israeli gunfire continued after Ms. Abu Akleh was hit, impeding attempts to reach her to provide her with first aid.
After initially claiming that it appeared that Palestinian militants fired the deadly shot, Israeli officials Friday said it wasn’t possible to determine yet whether it was Israeli security forces or Palestinian militants who were responsible.
Israel has asked for the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh to be turned over to them for ballistic testing, but Palestinian officials have refused to do so, asserting that Israel couldn’t be trusted to conduct an impartial investigation.
The skirmish before the funeral revolved around an agreement reached by the family, Israeli police and Palestinian officials that called for the casket to be transported in a vehicle to the church funeral service. But many mourners wanted to march from the hospital to the Old City in a public demonstration of Palestinian grief and outrage at the killing, according to Palestinians who participated in the procession.
Sven Kuhn von Burgsdorff, head of the European Union’s mission to the West Bank and Gaza, said he had tried to mediate a standoff between the police—who told him they wanted the coffin taken out in a vehicle—and the mourners who said they wanted to carry it on their shoulders.
He said the police told him that it was unacceptable that the mourners shouted nationalist slogans and waved the Palestinian flag. He said he saw a few of the mourners throw water bottles at the police but saw no stones or other weapons.
When his negotiation efforts failed, Mr. Kuhn von Burgsdorff left. Moments later, the police stormed the mourners.
After the initial police action, the casket was put into a vehicle. Three witnesses said marchers attempted to remove the body from the vehicle but were stopped by police using force.
After the funeral service in the Old City, the wooden casket, draped in a Palestinian flag, was carried through the narrow streets as hundreds of mourners chanted“Palestine is Arab” and other slogans as they followed behind to the Greek Orthodox cemetery outside the city walls, where the journalist was buried.
—Stephen Kalin and Adam Rasgon contributed to this article.
Copyright ©2022 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8
The Insidexpress is now on Telegram and Google News. Join us on Telegram and Google News, and stay updated.