Ramallah, occupied West Bank – A state service for the slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh took place in the Palestinian city of Ramallah, a day after she was killed by Israeli forces.
Thousands of Palestinians attended the ceremony, which took place at the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) presidential compound at noon on Thursday in the occupied West Bank city.
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Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces while she was covering an Israeli military raid in Jenin city early on Wednesday.
President Mahmoud Abbas honoured Abu Akleh and bid her farewell at the compound, where a large procession by the national guard was also held.
Speaking at the ceremony, Abbas said Israel was “fully responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death.
“We reject the joint investigation with Israel into the killing of Abu Akleh,” Abbas said, adding that the Palestinian officials would go to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to seek justice.
Abu Akleh’s killing has sent shockwaves throughout Palestine and the Arab world.
The 51-year-old was a veteran correspondent for Al Jazeera Arabic television, joining the station in 1997 only a year after its launch.
Many in Palestine remember her for her coverage of the Israeli army’s large scale invasions of major West Bank cities during the Second Intifada, or uprising, that began in 2000.
“The news of her martyrdom was like a slap on the face of every Palestinian,” said journalism student Azhar Khalaf.
The 22-year-old Birzeit University student described Abu Akleh as a “media icon” and a “model”.
“She was in every home, she felt the pain of every Palestinian and conveyed their pain,” Khalaf told Al Jazeera. “She was the voice of truth and justice.”
Following her killing, large photos of the correspondent were plastered on a big screen at al-Manara Square, in Ramallah’s city centre.
“Shireen was close to the people,” 37-year-old political and social activist Hazem Abu Helal told Al Jazeera at the state service.
“Everyone knew her not only for her work but also her involvement in the community. She was a part of many initiatives, in social and cultural events and organizations,” said Abu Helal, describing her as “kind” and “professional”.
Journalists, colleagues and friends poured into the Istishari Hospital on Thursday morning, where the service began at 10:30am (07:30 GMT).
Groups of individuals close to Abu Akleh were allowed inside the morgue at the hospital, emerging with heavy tears and loud, pain-filled cries.
Her body was then brought out and prayers held before she was carried out in a PA national guard vehicle and taken to the presidential compound.
Following the ceremony at the compound, Abu Akleh’s body was taken in an ambulance and a convoy to Qalandia checkpoint, which lies between Ramallah and Jerusalem. She was transferred to the St Louis French Hospital in Sheikh Jarrah, in occupied East Jerusalem, where her family lives.
Her burial will take place on Friday at the Old City.
On Wednesday and Thursday, Abu Akleh was honoured in several Palestinian cities, including Jenin, where she was killed, Nablus, and Ramallah, as her body traveled from the northern West Bank to Jerusalem, in a long procession demonstrating the outpouring of grief among Palestinians.
Her body was carried in several protests, with hundreds of Palestinians attending and chanting slogans including “with our souls, with our blood, we sacrifice for you, Shireen,” and, “From Ramallah, to Jenin, may God have mercy on your soul, Shireen.”
Mohammed Shtayyeh, the PA prime minister, called Abu Akleh “a national figure” and “a star”.
Hailing her professionalism, Shtayyeh told Al Jazeera that Abu Akleh was “not only a correspondent, but she lived the cases and was reporting about every single detail of the Palestinian daily life”.
“Her roots were so deep-rooted in Jerusalem, and her family as well,” he added. “I have seen Shireen Abu Akleh nearly everywhere – in condolences houses, in celebrations, in demonstrations and in sit-ins.”
In her last email to the network, Abu Akleh sent a message to Al Jazeera’s Ramallah bureau at 6:13am (3:13 GMT) in which she wrote: “Occupation forces storm Jenin and besiege a house in the Jabriyat neighbourhood. On the way there – I will bring you news as soon as the picture becomes clear.”
She was wearing a press vest and was standing with other journalists when she was shot with a bullet just under her ear.
Another Al Jazeera journalist, Ali al-Samoudi, was also wounded by a bullet in the back at the scene. He is now in stable condition.
Al-Samoudi, witnesses, and other journalists said there were no Palestinian fighters present when they were shot at, directly disputing an Israeli statement referencing the possibility that it was Palestinian fire.
“We were going to film the Israeli army operation and suddenly they shot us without asking us to leave or stop filming,” said al-Samoudi.
“The first bullet hit me and the second bullet hit Shireen … there was no Palestinian military resistance at all at the scene,” he added.
Shatha Hanaysha, a local journalist who was standing next to Abu Akleh when she was shot dead, said the group of journalists had been directly targeted.
“We were four journalists, we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” Hanaysha told Al Jazeera.
“The [Israeli] occupation army did not stop firing even after she collapsed. I couldn’t even extend my arm to pull her because of the shots being fired. The army was adamant on shooting to kill.”
Israel now appears to be walking back some of its initial claims after government officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, claimed a video appearing to show Palestinian fighters firing in a Jenin alleyway was evidence that Palestinians had killed Abu Akleh.
Verification efforts have shown that the alleyway was not in the area where Abu Akleh was shot.
Israel’s military chief, Lieutenant General Aviv Kochavi, has now said that it is unclear who shot Abu Akleh.
Back at the state service, a sea of people gathered to bid Abu Akleh farewell.
“We came today to stand with Shireen. I opened my eyes to the world watching Shireen,” 19-year-old Eleen Salameh told Al Jazeera.
Salameh, whose family owns a salon in Ramallah that Abu Akleh would frequent as a client, described her as a “powerful person”.
“We are very sad. She was one of us.”
Nida Ibrahim contributed to this report.