Churches Condemn Israeli Police Charge at Al Jazeera Reporter’s Funeral

Israeli police confront mourners as they carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in east Yerushalayim, Friday. (AP Photo/Maya Levin, File)

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) – An organization representing 12 Christian denominations on Monday condemned an Israeli riot police charge at the funeral of a Palestinian Al Jazeera journalist, describing the actions as a violation of freedom of religion.

The Israeli police have defended their actions, saying that officers were attacked with glass bottles and other objects, and that they warned the mourners to put away Palestinian flags they were waving and cease Palestinian nationalistic chants.

“The police stormed into a Christian health institute, disrespecting the Church… the health institute… and the memory of the deceased and forcing the pallbearers almost to drop the coffin,” they said.

The police’s “invasion and disproportionate use of force, attacking mourners, striking them with batons, using smoke grenades, shooting rubber bullets, frightening the hospital patients, is a severe violation… of the fundamental human right of freedom of religion, which must be observed in a public space,” the statement said.

On its Twitter account, the police said they had entered the St. Joseph’s hospital compound to halt a riot, and they “instructed that the coffin be returned to the hearse, as did the EU ambassador and Abu-Akleh’s own family, but the mob refused.”

The office of European Union Representative Sven Kühn von Burgsdorff denied that statement, calling it “not accurate” and “misleading.”

Abu Akleh family members on Monday disputed the police’s contention that officers had acted on their behalf to prevent rioters from forcibly parading the coffin through the streets of Yerushalayim, during the funeral, which began in the hospital courtyard.

Police have said they were investigating the incident. Among other questions, it was unclear if they were authorized to use batons in the hospital compound, KAN News reported.

Friday’s incident was broadcast live globally and renewed the anger at the reporter being shot dead during an Israeli counter-terrorism raid in Jenin. Palestinians have accused Israel of “assassinating” Abu Akleh, while refusing to share evidence with Israeli forensic experts.

The IDF continues to investigate the incident, trying to establish the origin of the fatal bullet, which could have been the Palestinian gunmen, who were in a fierce firefight with Israel troops at the time.

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