(Reuters) - An Al Jazeera reporter was shot dead during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, with the news channel and a wounded colleague accusing Israel of killing her and Israel's leader saying she may have been hit by Palestinian fire.
Shireen Abu Akleh, 51,a Palestinian-American, was wearing a press vest that clearly marked her as a journalist while reporting in the city of Jenin, the Qatar-based outlet said. She was covering the latest in intensified military incursions in the West Bank launched amid deadly Arab street attacks in Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in a statement, said that according to information Israel has gathered so far, "it appears likely that armed Palestinians — who were firing indiscriminately at the time — were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist."
The Palestinian health ministry said she had been hit in the head by gunfire. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Al Jazeera described her death as blatant, cold-blooded murder by Israeli forces.
"Very said to learn of the death of American and Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh," Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote on Twitter. "I encourage a thorough investigation into the circumstances of her death and the injury of at least one other journalist today in Jenin."
Israeli prime minister Bennett said the Palestinian Authority had rejected an Israeli offer to conduct a joint autopsy.
Ali Smoudi, a Palestinian journalist wounded alongside Abu Akleh, said Israeli forces "suddenly opened fire" at them during the operation.
"They didn’t ask us to leave and they didn’t ask us to stop (filming). They fired at us. One bullet hit me and another hit Shireen. They killed her in cold blood,” Smoudi, treated at a hospital in Jenin, told Reuters.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Afghanistan (MoFA) said it condemns the "deliberate murder" of an Aljazeera journalist by Israeli forces in Palestine. “By attacking freedom of expression, Israel seeks to conceal from the world persecution of the Palestinian people,” said Abdul Qahar Balkhi, a spokesman for the MoFA.
In a statement, the military said its troops had shot back after coming under "massive fire" in Jenin.
Israeli military spokesman Ran Kochav told Army Radio that Abu Akleh was close to a group of armed Palestinians who had been firing "imprecisely".
Asked about the military's remarks, Smoudi said: "There were no resistance fighters near us."
A U.S. embassy spokesperson in Jerusalem said Abu Akleh had covered issues in the Middle East and internationally for more than two decades and was "deeply respected by many Palestinians and others around the world".
Qatar's deputy foreign minister, on Twitter, said Qatar "condemns in the strongest terms (the journalist's) assassination by Israeli occupation forces".
In a separate incident on Wednesday, Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian during clashes near the West Bank town of Ramallah, the Palestinian Health Ministry said. There was no immediate Israeli comment.