JERUSALEM — The U.S. Department of Justice has opened an investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian American journalist, in the occupied West Bank, the Israeli Defense Ministry announced on Monday night.
Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, confirmed that a U.S. inquiry had begun and said that Israel would not participate, reducing the likelihood that a court case would result. Several investigations have concluded that Ms. Abu Akleh, who was shot in the head on May 11, was probably killed by an Israeli soldier.
“The decision of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the unfortunate death of Shireen Abu Akleh is a grave mistake,” Mr. Gantz wrote in a statement in Hebrew. The statement added, “We will not cooperate with any external investigation, and we will not allow interference in Israel’s internal affairs.”
The announcement came six months after Ms. Abu Akleh, a reporter for Al Jazeera, was slain while covering an Israeli Army raid in Jenin, a Palestinian city in the West Bank. Her death drew global outrage and international attention to the dangers of life in the occupied West Bank.
The U.S. move represented a shift in the Biden administration, which had concluded that Ms. Abu Akleh most likely was killed by shots fired from the position of Israeli soldiers, but had refused to publicly demand that Israel open a criminal investigation.
The shift followed Palestinian anger at perceived American resistance to a full investigation, as well as several independent inquiries into Ms. Abu Akleh’s killing. A monthlong investigation by The New York Times found that the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh had been fired from the approximate location of an Israeli military convoy earlier that morning, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit, corroborating witness reports from the site.
Other news organizations and the United Nations reached similar conclusions.
The U.S. State Department said in July that shots fired from the position of Israeli soldiers were “likely responsible for the death” of Ms. Abu Akleh, but damage to the bullet made it difficult to draw a definitive conclusion about the gun from which it came. At that time, the United States also concluded that Ms. Abu Akleh had most likely been killed by accident — but the announcement on Monday suggested that at least some U.S. officials had drawn a different conclusion.
The Justice Department declined to comment on Monday.
Ms. Abu Akleh, 51, was killed while covering a rise in Israeli raids in the West Bank, a surge that has continued and that followed an earlier rise in attacks by Palestinians that killed 19 Israelis. She was shot while wearing a blue flak jacket marked “Press,” and colleagues who came under fire at the same time said they had thought the army was already aware of their presence.
Israeli officials initially said that Ms. Abu Akleh had most likely been killed by a Palestinian gunman during clashes between Israeli soldiers and militants, before conceding in September that “there is a high possibility” that she was killed by an Israeli soldier, while ruling out a criminal investigation.
Ms. Abu Akleh was one of more than 120 Palestinians killed as of November this year during Israeli Army raids in the West Bank — most of them militants, but some of them civilians.
For Palestinians, her killing became a symbol of the daily dangers of life under Israeli occupation. Palestinian deaths rarely attract global attention, except during major episodes of violence, and Israeli soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely jailed.
But Ms. Abu Akleh was a well-known figure in the Middle East, and her fatal shooting provoked more outcry. She had reported on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank for more than 20 years.
Glenn Thrush and Adam Goldman contributed reporting from Washington, and Ronen Bergman from Tel Aviv.