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Al Jazeera pays tearful tribute to Abu Akleh

DOHA: Al Jazeera’s newsdesk told Shireen Abu Akleh they would keep a spot for her “at the top of the hour” after she said in an email she was going to cover a Zionist operation in the Palestinian town of Jenin. “But she never turned up,” said Mohamed Moawad, the Arabic channel’s head of output, fighting back tears as he told of the final contacts with the veteran journalist on a typically risky mission.

“The last communication was 20 minutes before this heinous crime happened,” Moawad told AFP shortly after staff held their own broadcast tribute to the 51-year-old. “She sent an email that said ‘Hi, there is a (Zionist) intervention in Jenin and I am heading there now. I am almost there. I will send you details’.”

Instead of her live report from the raid, Al Jazeera staff were shaken to see social media images indicating she had been shot. Moawad said another journalist soon sent a message informing them she had died three kilometers from the edge of Jenin in the West Bank. She had been with four other journalists, all wearing blue press vests and helmets, according to the Al Jazeera chief.

The Qatari state-owned channel said Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, had been killed “in cold blood” and demanded Zionist forces be held accountable. “We consider this something intentional because the bullet hit exactly the area below her ear where there is no cover,” said Moawad, who added that “reckless” comments had been made in the Zionist entity about the killing.

Al Jazeera journalists shed tears during the minute when its broadcasts were silenced as a tribute to the journalist who joined the channel shortly after it opened in 1996. Many who had worked with Abu Akleh embraced in the newsroom, clutching portraits of the journalist and sheets stating “Journalism is not a crime”, as images showing the latest violence in the Palestinian territories flashed up on their work screens.

Abu Akleh – the second journalist hired by Al Jazeera in the Palestinian territories – became the 12th journalist from the channel to be killed on duty since it started broadcasting. “She was everywhere where there was a story. She has been everywhere to give voice to the voiceless,” said Moawad. “There are so many videos showing Shireen getting attacked by (Zionist )forces, getting attacked by bullets and other stuff.” Abu Akleh had never complained about her own safety though, he added. “She was always there covering the story without any kind of fear. We never assigned Shireen to do a story, she was just there. She showed up.”

Hoda Abdel-Hamid, a senior correspondent at Al Jazeera, said Abu Akleh was “extremely brave”. “But she was also a very experienced journalist, she was not one to take stupid risks for the hell of it,” she told AFP from her mission in Ukraine. “I am pretty sure that today she was in a safe place, in a place that was for journalists and she was clearly marked. She wouldn’t be jumping in the crossfire just for the hell of it. She wouldn’t do that.” – AFP

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