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PoliticsMiddle East

Israel claims Hamas was using AP building to jam Iron Dome

June 8, 2021

Israel has shared its justification for bombing the Gaza bureau of the Associated Press. AP says it needs to see evidence.

Three journalists in the rubble where the Jala Tower had once stood in Gaza
Israel says its airstrike was justified, rights groups say it was a war crime, AP says it wants to see evidenceImage: Mohammed Abed/AFP

Israel on Tuesday, gave specific justification for carrying out an airstrike that destroyed Jala Tower, a Gaza building that housed the Associated Press (AP) news agency and Al Jazeera, a Qatari television network.

The bombing of the high-rise building took place on May 15, as the conflict between the Palestinian militant group Hamas and Israel escalated. Its destruction caused international outrage. At the time, Israel said that Hamas' military intelligence services were using the building. 

Israel says Hamas tried to jam missile defenses

On Tuesday, Israeli Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan offered more detail, saying: "The unit was developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome [anti-missile] defense system." 

Erdan gave the explanation during a meeting with AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt in New York and later released a series of tweets outlining Israel's position. "Israel did everything it could to make sure that no employees or civilians were hurt during this important operation," he said, offering to help rebuild AP's Gaza bureau and noting that he couldn't imagine AP employees being aware of Hamas' activities on the site.

AP: 'Have yet to receive evidence'

Though AP called the conversation "positive and constructive," saying it appreciated Erdan's explanation of Israel's claims that the unit in the building posed an "urgent threat," it nevertheless released a statement saying: "We have yet to receive evidence to support these claims. AP continues to call for the full release of any evidence the Israelis have so that the facts are public."    

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) also released a statement claiming Hamas kept special equipment in the Jala Tower building for the purpose of disrupting Israel's Iron Dome: "The strike was designed to collapse the building in order to ensure the destruction of the special means [to disrupt]. 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."

Owner and rights groups claim 'war crimes'

The owner of the Jala Tower says he pleaded with the IDF to give employees at Al Jazeera 10 minutes to retrieve equipment but the request was rejected. Lawyers for the man say he will lodge a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the attack, which he says was a war crime.

That sentiment was echoed by Reporters without Borders (RSF) Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, who said: "Deliberately targeting media outlets constitutes a war crime. By intentionally destroying media outlets, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are not only inflicting unacceptable material damage on news operations. They are also, more broadly, obstructing media coverage of a conflict that directly affects the civilian population. We call on the International Criminal Court's prosecutor to determine whether these air strikes constitute war crimes."

AP and media rights groups have called for an independent investigation into allegations that Jala Tower was used by Hamas. A militant Islamist group, Hamas controls the poor and crowded Gaza Strip and began the firing of missiles at Israel in response to what it says were Israeli provocations against Palestinians.

During the conflict, which raged from May 10-21, rockets and other fire from Gaza killed 13 people in Israel and injured 357 more. Retaliatory Israeli airstrikes killed 260 Palestinians and wounded more than 1,900, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. A cease-fire has been in place since May 26.

Frustration and sadness in Gaza

js/aw (AFP, dpa)