WASHINGTON – Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations told senior Associated Press officials the office building used by the news agency in the Gaza Strip and targeted by Israel during last month’s fighting was also used by Hamas to develop capabilities aimed at disrupting the Israeli Iron Dome air defense system.
AP, however, said it hasn’t been shown any evidence to support the Israeli claims that the Hamas activity at the building posed any imminent threat that justified the strike on the tower housing AP’s Gaza bureau, as well as the offices of several other international and local media outlets.
Ambassador Gilad Erdan met with AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt and Vice President of International News Ian Phillips at its New York headquarters on Monday in what the Israeli Embassy described as part of the ambassador’s “work to restore the relations between Israel and the Associated Press.”
Al-Jalaa tower was destroyed in an Israeli strike in mid-May, drawing condemnations from the international community and media groups. Israel’s prime minister later defended the strike as “perfectly legitimate.” It also led to a public rebuke from senior Democratic pro-Israel Sen. Robert Menendez and what had been the Biden administration’s most harsh public comment on Israel’s military actions to date.
The Hamas unit operating from the tower “was developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome defense system,” Erdan said in what the embassy termed the first official information on why the Israeli military specifically targeted the building.
Erdan argued that Israel upholds the importance of press freedom and ensures the safety of journalists, stressing that Israel did everything it could to ensure that no employees or civilians were harmed in the strike. He added that Israel is willing to assist the AP in rebuilding its offices and operations in Gaza.
AP told Haaretz that they “appreciate the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Erdan to discuss the attack on the building housing our Gaza bureau and Israel’s support for our efforts to rebuild the bureau,” noting that it was “a positive and constructive conversation.”
They added, however, that “Israeli authorities maintain that the building housing our bureau was destroyed because of a Hamas presence that posed an urgent threat. 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.”
Following the airstrike, Pruitt said he was “shocked and horrified,” noting that Israel has long known the location of the bureau and that the agency “narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life.”