There were troubling scenes in the heart of the Middle East on Friday as thousands of Palestinians flocked to Jerusalem to pay their final respects to, who was killed two days earlier as she covered an army raid in the Israeli occupied West Bank. Al Jazeera said Israel had warned Abu Akleh’s brother to limit the size of the funeral procession, and told him no Palestinian flags should be displayed and no slogans chanted. The network said he rejected the caution, which would have been difficult to heed given the outpouring of grief and anger over the reporter’s killing.
Video clips aired on Al Jazeera — which has accused Israeli troops of deliberately opening fire on Abu Akleh — showed Israeli riot police tussling with mourners outside a Jerusalem hospital and firing tear gas as people tried to carry her coffin outside a Jerusalem hospital on Friday.
At one point her casket appeared to nearly topple to the ground amid the melee. Projectiles could be seen flying through the air as Palestinians chanted anti-Israeli slogans.
Israel had bolstered security in Jerusalem ahead of the funeral, as Palestinian officials continued to back Al Jazeera’s allegation that Abu Akleh was murdered by Israeli forces. The Palestinian Authority has refused to cooperate with Israel in investigating her death, despite calls from both Israel and the U.S. to do so.
The 51-year-old Palestinian-American journalist was killed by an apparent shot to the head as she covered clashes in the West Bank’s sprawling Jenin refugee camp, despite wearing protective equipment that clearly labelled her as a member of the press.
While Israel’s leader initially claimed it was “likely” she had been hit by fire from Palestinian gunmen firing uncontrollably, the country’s military chiefthat it could have been a shot from an Israeli soldier.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said late Wednesday that it could have been “the Palestinians who shot her,” or fire from “our side” — seeming to walk back Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks the previous day about Palestinian gunfire “likely” being to blame.
“We are not certain how she was killed but we want to get to the bottom of this incident and to uncover the truth as much as we can,” Gantz said on Wednesday.
Abu Akleh’s body was transferred to Jerusalem from the West Bank for the funeral on Friday. The funeral procession began at a hospital in east Jerusalem, with last respects then to be paid at a church in the Old City before her body was laid to rest alongside her parents in a nearby cemetery.
But violent clashes between mourners and Israeli security forces kicked off soon after the coffin was carried out of the hospital. Video showed security forces and mourners, including Abu Akleh’s brother, tussling, with several people detained briefly.
Eventually the chaos subsided and the procession moved on to the church. Her coffin was being carried, followed by a large crowd, to the cemetery, and there were no immediate signs of further trouble along the way.
Israel’s military said Friday that an initial investigation showed there had been a heavy exchange of gunfire between security forces and Palestinians about 200 yards from where Abu Akleh was killed on Wednesday, but that it was unable to determine which side fired the fatal shot.
In a statement, the military repeated the Israeli government’s assertion that Palestinian gunmen had been firing recklessly, including at an Israeli military vehicle near where the journalist was hit.
The military said without a ballistic analysis of the round that killed Abu Akleh, it could not determine who shot the journalist. Palestinian authorities have not allowed Israeli officials access to the bullet that killed the Al Jazeera reporter.
CBS News’ Khaled Wassef contributed to this report.