Israel yet to show proof of Hamas in Gaza media tower: US

Secretary of State Antony Blinken says the US asked Israel for justification for the strike that levelled the tower.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US has yet to see Israeli evidence that Hamas operated in a now-destroyed building that housed Al Jazeera and The Associated Press offices [Saul Loeb/Pool via Reuters]

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has not seen any Israeli evidence of the Hamas operating in the Gaza building that housed residences, offices and media organisations – including Al Jazeera and The Associated Press – that Israel destroyed on Saturday.

Blinken said on Monday he has asked Israel for justification for the strike. The Israeli military, which gave journalists and other building occupants about an hour to evacuate, claims that Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office.

“Shortly after the strike we did request additional details regarding the justification for it,” Blinken said from Copenhagen, Denmark. He declined to discuss specific intelligence, saying he “will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment that information”.

But he said, “I have not seen any information provided.”

Israeli military spokesman Lt Gen Jonathan Conricus told CNN on Sunday, “We’re in the middle of fighting. That’s in process and I’m sure in due time that information will be presented.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would share any evidence of Hamas’s presence in the targeted building through intelligence channels. But neither the White House nor the State Department would say if any American official had seen it.

Blinken said on Monday the US was working round the clock to help put an end to the violence but gave few details.

“We’re not standing in the way of diplomacy, on the contrary, we are exercising it virtually non-stop,” Blinken told a news conference with Denmark’s foreign minister when asked why the US had blocked a United Nations Security Council statement condemning Israel’s military response.

Washington, a strong ally of Israel, has been isolated at the UN over its objection to a public statement by the council because it worries it could harm diplomacy behind the scenes.

Blinken said Israel has the right to defend itself, but that he had been alarmed that journalists and medical workers had been put at risk, in particular, after Israel destroyed the tower block in Gaza housing a number of media outlets.

Calls for investigations

Amnesty International and media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of the building housing the media organisations as a possible war crime. In addition, the AP’s top editor called for an independent US investigation into the attack.

The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, known by its French acronym RSF, said in a letter to the court’s chief prosecutor that the offices of 23 international and local media organisations have been destroyed over the past six days.

The RSF said it had strong reason to believe that the Israeli military’s “intentional targeting of media organizations and intentional destruction of their equipment” could violate one of the court’s statutes. It said the attacks serve “to reduce, if not neutralize, the media’s capacity to inform the public”.

Saleh Hijazi, deputy regional director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, told Al Jazeera Israel was trying to hide what it was doing in Gaza and to the people of Gaza, adding that Amnesty has been prevented from entering the enclave since 2012.

“We now have an International Criminal Court investigation open on the situation in the Palestinian territories since 2014. We call on the ICC to look into this incident,” he said, referring to the bombing of international media offices by Israeli forces.

“Even if there is a legitimate military target there, it is disproportionate to attack a building in such a manner,” Hijazi added.

“Such a disproportionate attack amounts to war crime. In addition, this follows a pattern of collective punishment against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said the agency has had offices in al-Jalaa tower for 15 years and it was never informed or had any indication that Hamas might be in the building. She said the facts must be laid out.

“We think it’s appropriate at this point for there to be an independent look at what happened yesterday — an independent investigation,” she added.

Buzbee also expressed concern about the impact on news coverage.

“This does impact the world’s right to know what is happening on both sides of the conflict in real-time,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies