JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Friday attacked mourners at the funeral procession of a prominent Palestinian-American journalist who was killed in the occupied West Bank this week, forcing the pallbearers to nearly drop the coffin.
video shown Police in Jerusalem punched and kicked pallbearers carrying the coffin containing the body of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, hit other mourners with batons and forced one man to the ground. During the commotion, the pallbearers were pushed backwards, momentarily losing control of one end of the coffin.
The incident took place outside a hospital in east Jerusalem, where mourners had gathered to take the coffin of Ms. Abu Akleh, a Christian, to a nearby church for her funeral.
It was one of several spasms of tension on a tense afternoon as riot police in several locations in East Jerusalem faced crowds of mourners waving Palestinian flags and chanting Palestinian slogans. Israel considers East Jerusalem part of its capital, but it is predominantly populated by Palestinians, and much of the international community considers it occupied territory.
The funeral procession incident lasted about a minute and followed a tense altercation between riot police and mourners, in which at least one empty plastic bottle was thrown in the direction of police.
Then the police suddenly advanced on the coffin, brandishing batons and kicking at the mourners. As police advanced, mourners threw projectiles, including what appeared to be a baton, and officers appeared to throw stun and smoke grenades.
In a statement, Israel Police said they “took enforcement action” after some mourners began chanting “nationalist incitement” and after officials warned the crowd. When the coffin was carried out of the hospital, police said they were “forced into action”. because “rioters started throwing rocks at the police officers”.
Police later circulated video showing an empty plastic bottle and two other bottle-shaped objects being thrown in the officers’ direction just before they approached the pallbearers, and a separate undated video showing several stones on the ground . There was no clear indication of when or how the stones had reached this spot.
Ms Abu Akleh was shot dead in the occupied West Bank during an Israeli raid on the city of Jenin on Wednesday morning. Witnesses said she was killed by an Israeli soldier.
The Israeli army said on Friday that while it was possible that Ms Abu Akleh was accidentally killed by Israeli fire, its initial investigations indicated she could also have been hit by a Palestinian gunman.
On Thursday, Israeli police warned Ms Abu Akleh’s family not to show “flags and slogans” at the funeral, Ahmad Tibi, a Palestinian member of the Knesset, told the Israeli parliament.
At one point during the funeral, a man holding up a wreath stood between the pallbearers and the police. Later, as the black hearse carrying her coffin slowly made its way through the crowd, an Israeli policeman tore three Palestinian flags from the vehicle and threw them to the ground, video showed.
Church bells rang throughout Old Town as mourners sang, “With our soul, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Shireen.”
A spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett declined to comment, as did a spokesman for Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, who oversees police.
The funeral was attended by thousands of people and came a day after a state memorial service was held in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Mourners stood in the courtyard of the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Headquarters to commend and bid farewell to a person regarded by many Palestinians as a pioneering journalist.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas awarded her the Star of Jerusalem, also known as the Quds Star. One of the highest honors the Palestinian President can bestow is traditionally given to ministers, ambassadors and MPs. Mr Abbas described Ms Abu Akleh as a “martyr for the truth and for free speech”.
She was later buried next to her parents in the Mount Zion Protestant Cemetery.
Hiba Yazbek contributed reports from Nazareth, Israel, and Iyad Abu Hweila from Gaza City.
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