United States President Joe Biden has claimed that his government is insisting on accountability for the May killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli army.
“The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death and will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” Biden said on Friday in a joint press conference with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas.
The US president made no mention of Israel’s responsibility for the killing of the 51-year-old veteran Palestinian-American journalist on May 11 while she was reporting in the occupied West Bank.
“She was an American citizen and a proud Palestinian,” said Biden. “I hope that her legacy will inspire more young people to carry on her work of reporting the truth and telling the stories that are too often overlooked.”
The news conference was held at the PA’s presidential compound in Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank, during Biden’s four-day tour of the Middle East region between July 13-16.
Critics have accused Biden of failing to take steps towards accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing.
Activists, volunteers and journalists put up billboards and large banners of Abu Akleh across Bethlehem ahead of Biden’s visit. Dozens of Palestinians protested about a kilometre away from the PA’s presidential compound.
No questions were permitted from the press after the conference, but about a dozen journalists wore a black t-shirt with Abu Akleh’s face on it in a sign of protest.
A United Nations investigation concluded that the bullet that killed the veteran journalist was fired by Israeli forces.
The Biden administration, however, angered Palestinians when the State Department acknowledged earlier this month that the fatal bullet that struck Abu Akleh likely came from an Israeli army position, but it framed the killing as the unintentional “result of tragic circumstances”.
Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi said Biden’s “statement of intent” on Abu Akleh are part and parcel of favourable US policy towards Israel.
“This is symptomatic of the sense of guarding Israel’s impunity, of preventing Israel from facing accountability in any way shape or form,” Ashrawi told Al Jazeera.
“You had the opportunity, you adopted Israel’s position and that’s it – you are trying to whitewash the situation,” continued Ashrawi. “It’s not just Shireen – it’s all Palestinians. We need to see a sense of justice.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a US-based watchdog, “cautiously” welcomed Biden’s pledge to ensure accountability for the killing on Friday. But it said the group is “disappointed” that the president did not commit to a probe by the FBI or meet with the slain journalist’s family during his visit.
“The Biden administration must understand that the campaign to bring real justice for Shireen is not going away and that any perception of indifference towards journalists would be a huge disservice to the human rights the US president claims to cherish,” Sherif Mansour, CPJ Middle East and North Africa programme coordinator, said in a statement.-Al Jazeera