US probes Abu Akleh killing in West Bank

Israel's Defence Minister Benny Gantz says the US Department of Justice has decided to investigate the fatal shooting of Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, condemning the probe as a "grave mistake".

A US Justice Department spokesman had no comment and there were no details about when an investigation might begin and what it would entail, nor what the ramifications of it might be.

But an FBI probe into Israeli actions would be a rare, if not unprecedented, step.

An American investigation would follow months of pressure from Abu Akleh's family and US lawmakers disappointed with the inconclusive findings of a previous State Department assessment and Israeli military investigation into the death of the prominent correspondent last May.

Abu Akleh's supporters accuse Israel of intentionally killing the 51-year-old, and have urged Washington to open a full investigation.

But a probe risks straining the strong partnership between the US and Israel at a time when Israel is bracing for the formation of its most right-wing government in history and as progressive Democrats in the US have called for a more sceptical stance toward one of Washington's closest allies.

It would directly challenge Israel's claims that it properly holds its soldiers to account for their actions in the Palestinian territories.

Gantz lambasted what he described as a decision to open a US Justice Department probe into Abu Akleh's killing, saying on Twitter that Israel has made it clear to the US that it "won't cooperate with any external investigation."

"We will not allow interference in Israel's internal affairs," he added.

Gantz, who is set to leave his post following elections earlier this month that vaulted Israel's former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back to power, served as defence minister when Abu Akleh was killed.

A Palestinian from Jerusalem who covered Israeli operations in the occupied West Bank for a quarter century, Abu Akleh was a household name among many Arabs in the Middle East. Her death sparked outrage across the world, throwing a spotlight on Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.

Palestinian officials, Abu Akleh's family and Al Jazeera accuse Israel of intentionally targeting the veteran reporter. She was wearing a helmet and a protective vest marked with the word "press" when she was shot while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp.

In September, Israel acknowledged for the first time that Israeli fire probably killed Abu Akleh. But the military stopped short of accepting responsibility for her death, vigorously denying allegations that a soldier targeted her and refusing to criminally investigate those involved.

An earlier assessment from the State Department also determined that the bullet that killed Abu Akleh was likely fired from an Israeli military position but was too damaged to say with certainty.

A series of independent investigations by the United Nations and international media outlets, including by The Associated Press, found that Israeli troops most likely fired the fatal bullet.

Abu Akleh's brother, Tony Abu Akleh, told Al Jazeera the family was optimistic about reports of a US investigation, saying it's "very important to hold those responsible accountable and prevent similar crimes."

Human rights groups have long accused the Israeli military of failing to properly investigate wrongdoing by its own troops and seldom holding forces accountable. Israel contends its investigations are independent and professional.

Abu Akleh was shot while reporting on an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank, long a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.