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Some Israeli officials regret leveling of Gaza media tower — NY Times

Sources in Jerusalem say benefits of destroying Hamas electronic equipment in strike are outweighed by damage done to Israel’s global image

The destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media, after it was hit last week by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
The destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media, after it was hit last week by an Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, May 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Some high-ranking officials in Jerusalem regret having bombed a Gaza building that housed offices of major international media outlets, saying any benefit of destroying Hamas electronic equipment in the tower has been outweighed by the damage done to Israel’s global image, three Israeli officials told The New York Times.

Some Israeli military officers had argued against the May 15 strike on the building housing the offices of the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and others, before it was eventually approved, the report said. Israeli officials were persuaded to authorize the strike after being presented with information about alleged Hamas operations in the building, in the knowledge that no people would be hurt, the Times reported Sunday.

But following the major international outcry, some Israeli officials now believe the move was a mistake, the report said.

The Israeli military maintains that Hamas used the high-rise building for electronic warfare against Israel, attempting to interfere with the GPS signal that the Israel Defense Forces uses, as well as for offices of the terror group’s intelligence department. The IDF has not, however, publicly released evidence to support this claim. The US has said Israel has provided it with information to back up the assertion through intelligence channels, though it has not commented on whether it accepts the claim or believes it justified bringing down the entire building.

The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike Saturday, May 15, 2021. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Jala Tower a “perfectly legitimate target” and told CBS’s “Face the Nation” last Sunday that Israel passes such evidence through intelligence channels. There were no injuries in the strike, following an advance warning from the Israeli military to those inside to evacuate.

The owner of the Gaza media tower on Friday lodged a complaint with the International Criminal Court, his lawyer said. The complaint by Jawad Mehdi says that the attack that flattened Jala Tower was a “war crime.” The filing, a copy of which was seen by AFP, came after the chief prosecutor of the ICC said last week that “crimes” may have been committed during the recent conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mehdi said at the time that an Israeli intelligence officer warned him he had one hour to ensure the 13-story building was evacuated before a missile slammed into it.

The ICC has no obligation to consider complaints filed to its prosecutor, who can decide independently what cases to submit to judges at the court.

The ICC opened an investigation in March into possible war crimes in by both Israeli forces and Palestinian terror groups since 2014. The move infuriated Israel, which is not a member of the court.

Palestinians inspect the destroyed building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media, after it was hit last week by Israeli airstrike, in Gaza City, Friday, May 21, 2021. Israel says the building housed Hamas offices. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

On Tuesday US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel had given the United States information about its bombing of the Gaza building. Blinken said from Iceland that “we have received some further information through intelligence channels.” He declined to characterize the material, saying “that’s not something I can comment on.”

Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Israel’s defense establishment handed Pentagon officials classified intelligence pointing to Hamas military operations conducted from the Gaza high-rise.

Press freedom groups condemned the attack, which marked a new chapter in the already rocky relationship between the Israeli military and the international media.

AP president Gary Pruitt called for an independent investigation into the strike.

Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said the news agency has had offices in the building for 15 years and was never informed or had any indication that Hamas might be in the building.

report in The Atlantic in 2014 claimed that Hamas members had repeatedly burst into the AP’s offices in the building and threatened staff, actions it asserted went unreported.

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