Calls mounted Wednesday for an independent investigation into the killing of veteran Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was shot dead as she covered an Israeli army raid in the occupied West Bank.
The Qatar-based TV channel charged that Israeli forces deliberately and "in cold blood" shot Abu Akleh, 51, a Palestinian-American and a Christian, in the head during the unrest in the Jenin refugee camp.
Another Al Jazeera journalist, producer Ali al-Samudi, was wounded in the incident in which both wore helmets and vests marked "Press". He later said no Palestinian fighters were nearby, stressing that otherwise "we would not have gone into the area".
Defence Minister Benny Gantz later said that "the preliminary investigation conducted by the (army) in the last several hours indicate that no gunfire was directed at the journalist -- however the investigation is ongoing."
A sand sculpture reads "Shireen Abu Akleh", for the Al Jazeera reporter who was killed in an Israeli raid in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on a beach in Gaza City May 11, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS
Army chief Aviv Kohavi said, that "at this stage, it is not possible to determine the source of the gunfire which hit her".
The European Union urged an "independent" investigation into her death, while the United States' envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called for the killing to be "transparently investigated."
The office of the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said it was "appalled", and also called for "an independent, transparent investigation."
Bachelet's office said it was on the ground and trying to verify the facts.
"We are appalled at the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin, Palestine," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's office said on Twitter.
"Our office is on the ground verifying the facts.
"We urge an independent, transparent investigation into her killing. Impunity must end."
"We're encouraging both sides to participate in that investigation so that we can get down to why this happened," US ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said.
Washington's "highest priority is protection of American citizens and the protection of journalists," she added.
The US State Department called for an "immediate and thorough" investigation into the killing of the journalist, QNA reported.
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on his official account on Twitter Wednesday: "We are heartbroken by and strongly condemn the killing of American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank. The investigation must be immediate and thorough and those responsible must be held accountable. Her death is an affront to media freedom everywhere."
Asked about Israel's openness to an international investigation, army spokesman Amnon Shefler said the military's internal investigative systems were "robust" and that it would conduct its own probe.
Shefler told reporters that Israel "would never deliberately target non-combatants," calling Abu Akleh's death "a tragedy that should not have occurred."
Israel has however publicly offered to participate in a joint investigation with the Palestinian Authority.
There were no immediate indications on whether the PA would agree to a joint probe.
Abu Akleh's body was in Ramallah Wednesday evening, where thousands carried her remains around the West Bank city, chanting "thank you, dear Shireen."
In a sign of her prominence in the West Bank, residents laid flowers on the roadside as the vehicle carrying her body moved towards Nablus, where an autopsy was conducted before her eventual burial in her native Jerusalem.
Al Jazeera said in a statement that "the Israeli occupation forces assassinated in cold blood Al Jazeera's correspondent in Palestine".
The Palestinian Authority said it held Israel "responsible" for Abu Akleh's killing.
The Israeli army released a video showing Palestinian gunfire in the Jenin camp early Wednesday, but not in the precise spot where Abu Akleh was killed.
An AFP photographer reported that Israeli forces were firing in the area, and that he then saw Abu Akleh's body lying on the ground, with no Palestinian gunmen visible at the time.
The Israeli army has stepped up operations in Jenin, a historic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in recent weeks.