Palestinian Christian leaders slam Israeli police attack on Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral

Palestinian Christian leaders slam Israeli police attack on Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral
The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa criticised Israeli police's actions during slain Palestinian journalist's Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral processions, where mourners carrying her casket were visibly assaulted.
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The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, who was appointed in 2020, denounced Israeli forces' attacks on Palestinian pallbearers during Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral processions [Getty]

The Catholic archbishop in Jerusalem on Monday strongly condemned Israel's "police invasion" last week of a Christian hospital ahead of the funeral of slain Palestinian Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.

The veteran journalist was shot dead during an Israeli army raid in the West Bank.

Israel accused Palestinian "gunmen" of being responsible, despite overwhelming evidence Israel was responsible for her killing.

Israel later backtracked and said that the veteran journalist was "very likely" killed by Israeli gunfire.

Anger over her death was compounded on Friday when baton-wielding Israeli forces in occupied east Jerusalem beat pallbearers carrying Abu Akleh's coffin which was covered by a Palestinian flag.

The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, on Monday decried "Israel's police invasion and disproportionate use of force" at St Joseph's hospital, where her body was being held.

At a press conference at the hospital, he criticised Israeli police for "attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades (and) shooting rubber bullets".

Police had stormed the hospital, "disrespecting the church, disrespecting the health institute, disrespecting the memory of the deceased, and forcing the pallbearers to almost drop the coffin", said Pizzaballa, speaking on behalf of the bishops of the Holy Land.

The hospital is owned by the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition, a French-founded congregation that has been present in both Palestinian and Israeli territories for nearly 200 years.

Chaotic scenes 

Israeli police have vowed to investigate Abu Akleh's brutal killing, which was broadcast live worldwide and sparked widespread condemnation including from the United States, European Union and United Nations. Palestinian officials have rejected Israel's request to conduct the probe, citing significant evidence of an Israeli cover-up.

Those calls echoed global demands for an impartial probe into the death of Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, who Al Jazeera said was killed by Israel deliberately and in cold blood.

Israeli forces frequently crack down on individuals publicly expressing their Palestinian identity, including by waving the flag.

The Abu Akleh family has categorically refuted the police version of events of violence by Palestinians, saying officers stormed the procession in response to the Palestinian flags and chants being present.

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'No flags, no chanting'

The late journalist's brother Anton Abu Akleh told AFP on Monday that police had called him the night before the funeral to insist there should not be "any Palestinian flags, no slogans and no chanting".

"I hope there will be some stand against this savage action," he said, calling for accountability after the raid.

St Joseph's hospital director Jamil Kousa told AFP that he had spoken to police outside the hospital on Friday and pleaded that the procession be allowed to go ahead "peacefully".

Kousa said police had warned that if mourners shouted Palestinian national "chants" or waved flags, the procession would be blocked.

Kousa also commented on police claims that members of the procession had hurled rocks at officers, saying: "You could see that maybe, five stones or objects were thrown, but it is not as they describe it".

When they cleaned the grounds after the police raid, Kousa said, the number of Israeli-fired rubber bullets found far exceeded the very few stones collected.