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Israel to US: We won’t change rules of engagement

Jerusalem24 – A US request to Israel to review its military’s rules of engagement in the occupied West Bank, which was issued following the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by an Israeli sniper in May and renewed last week following Israel’s release of its own internal investigation results, has met with public derision from both Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid as well as Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“No one will dictate to us how to open fire when we are fighting for our lives,” Lapid said on Wednesday.

A document published by the Israeli military last Monday which purports to reveal the results of the Israeli military investigation into the killing Abu Akleh says there is a “high possibility” that the veteran Al Jazeera journalist was “accidentally hit” by Israeli gunfire.

The investigation results contain claims that have been debunked, and were excoriated by Abu Akleh’s family, various NGOs, and Al Jazeera.

Not the first request

Axios revealed in August that following a meeting with Abu Akleh’s family in Washington, Secretary of State Tony Blinken called Gantz and asked him to publish the results of the Israeli military investigation into the journalist’s killing as soon as possible, as well as review the military’s rules of engagement in the West Bank.

According to sources quoted by Axios, Blinken told Gantz he thinks that either the rules of engagement weren’t followed or that they need to be reviewed if an Israeli soldier shot Abu Akleh while she wore a bulletproof vest clearly marked “press”.

Gantz reportedly told Blinken that situations on the ground are not always black and white during military operations.

Axios called US pressure for Israel to review the rules “unusual”, but said it came in the context of the Biden administration facing internal pressure to do more to ensure accountability in Abu Akleh’s death.

Public rebuff

Following the release of the investigation results last Monday, US State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said in a press briefing on Tuesday that the US would “continue to press our Israeli partners to closely review its policies and practices on rules of engagement and consider additional steps to mitigate the risk of civilian harm, protect journalists, and prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

According to Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronot, Gantz told the military on Wednesday that “only the chief of staff is responsible for the rules of engagement and there can be no political interference in the decision.”

Later that day, speaking to a crowd of graduates of the Haifa Navy base, Lapid said: “I will not allow them to prosecute an IDF fighter who defended his life from the shooting of terrorists just in order to receive applause from abroad. […] Our fighters have the full backing of the Israeli government and the people of Israel.”

Abu Akleh is one of 87 Palestinians who have been shot and killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank so far this year, a significant increase over previous years.

In December 2021, the Israeli military changed its rules of engagement, explicitly allowing its soldiers to shoot-to-kill Palestinians in the West Bank even if they are fleeing and presenting no danger.

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