Israel on June 8 said a Gaza media building it targeted was used by Hamas to jam air defences but the Associated Press (AP), whose office was destroyed in the attack, called for evidence.
Israel’s ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan, gave the most detailed explanation yet of the decision to strike the tower as he met the head of the news agency, Gary Pruitt, at its New York headquarters.
“The unit was developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome defence system,” Erdan said, referring to the anti-missile shield that intercepts Hamas rockets.
He offered Israel’s help in rebuilding the bureau of AP, one of the world’s major news agencies along with Agence France-Presse (AFP) and Reuters, and said he did not imagine AP employees were aware of the alleged use of the building by Hamas.
“Israel did everything it could to make sure that no employees or civilians were hurt during this important operation,” he said in a statement released a day after his meeting with AP executives.
“In contrast, Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organisation that has no regard for the press. It purposely places its terror machine in civilian areas, including in offices being used by international media outlets,” he said.
Expanding on the ambassador’s remarks, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Hamas kept special equipment in the Jala Tower building aimed at disrupting the Iron Dome.
“The strike was designed to collapse the building in order to ensure the destruction of the special means,” it said in a statement. “The target was of high military value to Hamas and was vetted according to rigorous procedures within the IDF, and in accordance with international law.”
AP called the conversation “positive and constructive” and said Erdan explained why Israel saw an “urgent threat” from the building.
“We have yet to receive evidence to support these claims,” the news organisation said in a statement. “AP continues to call for the full release of any evidence the Israelis have so that the facts are public.”
The AP and international media rights groups earlier called for an independent investigation into allegations that Jala Tower was used by Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the densely populated and impoverished Gaza Strip.
The air strike also destroyed the office of Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based television network that has frequently irritated both Israel and Arab states with its coverage.
The owner of the Jala Tower had unsuccessfully pleaded for 10 extra minutes to let Al Jazeera retrieve its equipment but an Israeli officer rejected the request and went ahead with the strike.
The attack came during a May 10-21 military escalation, with Hamas firing rockets into Israel in response to what it considered provocations in Jerusalem against the Palestinian population.
Israeli strikes killed 260 Palestinians, including 66 children and some fighters, and wounded more than 1,900 people, the Gaza health ministry says.
Rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 13 people in Israel, including a child and an Arab-Israeli teenager and an Israeli soldier, medics and the military say. Some 357 people in Israel were wounded.