JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Tuesday that a tower block in Gaza housing the U.S.-based Associated Press which was destroyed in an Israeli air strike was also used by the enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas as an electronic warfare site.
Israel’s destruction of the 12-storey tower, which also housed Qatar-based media group Al Jazeera, during last month’s fighting with Hamas and other militants drew international condemnation and calls by Israel’s main ally the United States to protect journalists.
The al-Jalaa building in Gaza City had been evacuated after its owner received advanced warning of the May 15 strike. But the AP says it has received no evidence of a Hamas presence that posed a threat, and has called for an independent investigation.
AP executives met Israel’s ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, on Monday to discuss the building’s destruction.
“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,” the AP said in a statement.
“AP continues to call for the full release of any evidence the Israelis have so that the facts are public.”
In a statement, Erdan reiterated an Israeli claim that the building housed Hamas military intelligence, saying its personnel there were “developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome defense system”.
Israel’s Iron Dome interceptors shot down most of the more than 4,300 rockets fire from Gaza during the 11-day conflict, during which Israeli air strikes and Gaza rocket fire left more than 250 Palestinians and 13 in Israel dead.
The Israeli military said the purpose of the strike “was to curtail these enemy capabilities, including destroying special equipment, and preventing their use during the operation…The strike was designed to collapse the building in order to ensure the destruction of the special means.”
Erdan said Israel did all it could to avoid civilian harm.
“AP is one of the most important news agencies in the world and Israel doesn’t think that AP employees were aware it was being cynically used in this way by Hamas for a secret unit,” he said.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Angus MacSwan)