In his meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) last week, President Joe Biden raised the issue of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 by Saudi officials. In response, MBS reminded Biden of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and also asked what the U.S. was doing about the recent killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh allegedly by Israeli forces.
According to the U.S. State Department, “gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh” on May 11, who was then covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank. Akleh, a U.S.-Palestinian citizen and Arab Christian, was with other journalists and wearing a “PRESS” vest and helmet. She had been a reporter for Al Jazerra for 25 years and was 51 when she was killed.
Jamal Khashoggi, a Post columnist and critic of the Saudi monarchy, was murdered by Saudi officials in the consulate in Istanbul in October 2018. U.S. intelligence reports say that MBS approved the murder, although the crown prince denies it.
According to reports from Al-Arabaiya, a Saudi-funded news outlet, MBS and Biden met for three hours on July 15. During that meeting Biden raised the topic of Khashoggi’s assassination and told the crown prince “very straightforwardly” that “for an American president to be silent on the issue of human rights is inconsistent with who we are and who I am,” said the president at a post-meeting press conference.
Biden also disclosed, “He [MBS] basically said that he was not personally responsible for it. I indicated I thought he was.”
A Saudi official, according to Axios, said that MBS challenged Biden’s claim and noted the “mistakes” of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The official also disclosed that MBS raised the topic of Shireen abu Akhel, asking Biden, “What did the U.S. and other countries in the world do about her?”
In addition to the State Department’s announcement about the bullet that killed Akhel, Israel has conceded that a stray bullet may have hit Akhel. However, journalist Shatha Hanaysha, who was standing next to Akleh, told Al Jazeera that the IDF directly targeted them.
“We were four journalists, we were all wearing vests, all wearing helmets,” said Hanaysha. “The [Israeli] occupation army did not stop firing even after she [Akleh] 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.”
Ibrahim Melhem, a spokesperson for the Palestinian authority government, said, “The killing was deliberate…. [A]ll the witnesses present at the scene of the crime ensure that it was an Israeli sniper that committed the crime in a deliberate way.”
Before his stop in Saudi Arabia, President Biden met with Israel officials in Israel and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank. In public remarks with Abbas, Biden spoke about the death of Akleh.
“[S]he was an American — an American citizen and a proud Palestinian,” said Biden. “And she was performing very vital work on an independent media and vital work of democracy. Her death is an enormous loss to the essential work of sharing with the world the story of the Palestinian people.”
The United States will continue to insist on a full and transparent accounting of her death, and we will continue to stand up for media freedom everywhere in the world,” said Biden.
Biden also announced that he is resuming aid to the Palestinians, approximately $100 million a year, which was severed by the Trump administration. In addition, through the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the U.S. will provide about $400 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees.
Biden further stated that he supports a two-state solution to help end the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. “Two states along the 1967 lines, where mutually agreed-to swaps, remain the best way to achieve equal measure of security, prosperity, freedom, and democracy for the Palestinians as well as Israelis,” he said.
President Abbas said he also supports a “two-state solution along the 1967 borders.” He added, “Mr. President, we look forward to the efforts of your administration to turn the page on the Israeli occupation of our land and the acts of racial discrimination, apartheid against our people; and to stop unilateral actions that undermine the two-state solution.”
Last Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said he agreed with Biden. “A two-state solution is a guarantee for a strong, democratic State of Israel with a Jewish majority,” he said.
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