Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that the United States asked the Israeli government for evidence that Hamas was in the Gaza building that housed several media offices before Israel destroyed it on Saturday, but he personally has “not seen any information provided.”
An Israeli airstrike targeted the Jala'a building in Gaza City on Saturday afternoon, obliterating the newsrooms of Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. No casualties were reported from the strike, as the journalists and other occupants of the high-rise were given one hour to evacuate.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says the building was “an important base of operations” for Palestinian militant group Hamas, which for the past week has been firing rockets into Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS’s "Face The Nation" on Sunday, without elaborating, that Israel has evidence indicating the Jala'a building was “a perfectly legitimate target."
On Sunday, an unnamed Israeli diplomatic source told The Jerusalem Post that “we showed [the Americans] the smoking gun proving Hamas worked out of that building. … I understand they found the explanation satisfactory.”
Asked about the alleged evidence during a news conference in Denmark Monday, Blinken said, “Shortly after the strike, we did request additional details regarding the justification for it.”
The secretary said he has "not seen any information provided” but he "will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information."
Why it matters: Blinken, who started his career as a journalist, hasn’t outright condemned the bombing. Later that day, the State Department issued a statement following Blinken’s call with AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt, during which the secretary expressed “his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world.” The brief statement didn’t mention Israel or the specific attack in Gaza City.
The White House also stopped short of issuing a rebuke, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying in a tweet that the United States had communicated to Israel that protecting journalists “is a paramount responsibility.”
The Biden administration faces increasing pressure from the left wing of the Democratic Party to publicly condemn Israel for what critics say is a 'disproportionate use of force in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli bombardments have killed nearly 200 Palestinians, half of them women and children, the Health Ministry in Gaza said on Monday.
In Israel, the country’s Iron Dome aerial defense system has intercepted most of the rockets launched from Gaza. As of Monday, the military had reported 10 casualties in Israel, including two children.
What’s next: Press freedom advocates have accused Israel of trying to quash reporting of its bombing campaign in the besieged Palestinian enclave. Last week, Israeli warplanes flattened two Gaza towers housing more than a dozen media outlets, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).
Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director, said the latest attack "raises the specter that the [IDF] is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.”
The Associated Press’ top editor, Sally Buzbee, said that an independent probe of the airstrike that destroyed the AP’s newsroom was needed. Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the bombing a blatant attack meant to “silence the media and to hide the untold carnage” in Gaza.
Reporters Without Borders has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the strikes on buildings housing media outlets as a possible war crime. The media watchdog ranked Israel 86 out of 180 countries in its 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
Know more: As Israel’s conflict with Hamas enters its second week, Gaza residents with no place to go describe to Al-Monitor how they are taking shelter from the barrage of airstrikes and shelling.