Israel claims Hamas tried to hamper defenses from Gaza tower

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s ambassador to the United States said Tuesday that Hamas militants tried to disrupt Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system from a Gaza building housing The Associated Press and other news outlets, prompting the Israeli air force to destroy the high rise last month. The AP said it has not seen evidence to support the claim.

Ambassador Gilad Erdan issued his statement a day after meeting the AP’s president and chief executive, Gary Pruitt, and Ian Phillips, vice president for international news, at the AP’s New York headquarters.

The Israeli air force bombed the 12-story al-Jalaa tower on May 15, roughly an hour after ordering all occupants to evacuate. No one was injured, but the building was destroyed. The building was home to offices belonging to the AP, the Al Jazeera satellite channel as well as dozens of families.

The airstrike came during an 11-day war between Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group.

In a statement on Twitter, Erdan said he told AP executives that the building was used by Hamas to disrupt the Iron Dome, which intercepted hundreds of incoming rockets fired by the militant group during the fighting.

Erdan said the airstrike did not intentionally target journalists.

“AP is one of the most important news agencies in the world and Israel does not suspect its employees were aware a covert Hamas unit was using the building in this way,” he said.

“I reaffirmed that Israel upholds the importance of press freedom and strives to ensure the safety of journalists wherever they are reporting. Israel is willing to assist AP in rebuilding its offices and operations in Gaza,” he added.

The meeting with Erdan “was a positive and constructive conversation,” the AP said in a statement. The agency expressed its appreciation for his pledges to help rebuild an AP bureau in Gaza.

The AP renewed its call to see evidence backing Israel’s claim that Hamas militants were operating in the building.

“Israeli authorities maintain that the building housing our bureau was destroyed because of a Hamas presence that posed an urgent threat,” the AP said. “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 AP has repeatedly urged Israel to share any evidence supporting its claims of Hamas activity in the building. It also has urged an independent investigationinto the incident.

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