Hamas Official Denies Group Used Destroyed Gaza Media Tower for Intelligence

In its first official statement, Hamas denies Israel's allegation that the building housing the AP and other news media was used for military intelligence.

A ball of fire erupts from the Jala Tower as it is destroyed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza city controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 15, 2021. - Israeli air strikes pounded the Gaza Strip, killing 10 members of an extended family and demolishing a key media building, while Palestinian militants launched rockets in return amid violence in the West Bank. Israel's air force targeted the 13-floor Jala Tower housing Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television and the Associated Press news agency (Photo by Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via AP)
The Al-Jalaa Tower — which housed the Associated Press, Al-Jazeera, and other media outlets — is seen collapsing after being targeted by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on May 15, 2021. Photo: Momen Faiz/NurPhoto via AP

The Israeli government’s claim that Hamas operated a military intelligence unit in a Gaza City building that housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera is false, a Hamas official has told The Intercept.

The Israeli military destroyed the Al-Jalaa Tower after giving the journalists who worked there an hour to evacuate. Israel used Hamas’s alleged military operations in the building to justify the bombing.

“Hamas did not have any military or intelligence operations in Al-Jalaa Tower,” said Basem Naim, a Hamas official who is the head of the Council on International Relations in Gaza, in an interview with The Intercept. It was the group’s first official denial of Israel’s allegations to the international media.

“Hamas did not have any military or intelligence operations in Al-Jalaa Tower.”

The Jerusalem Post, quoting an unnamed senior Israeli official, reported that Israel showed the United States “smoking gun” evidence that Hamas’s military operated an intelligence office in the building. However, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said today he has not seen any evidence, and the White House declined to comment in a briefing today.

“We don’t operate anything related to the military wing from civilian houses,” said Naim.

Hamas is a militant and political organization. In 2006, the group won elections in the Palestinian territories and entered into a power-sharing agreement with Fatah, its rival political party, to run the Palestinian Authority in the occupied territories. In 2007, fighting erupted after a U.S.-backed armed effort to remove Hamas from power, and the group took over governance of the densely populated Gaza Strip.

The United Nations characterizes Israel as an occupying power in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel controls Gaza’s sea and airspace as well as, along with Egypt, its land borders. Since 2006, an Israeli blockade has choked off Gaza from the rest of the world, impoverishing many of the territory’s 2 million residents. The U.S. State Department has designated Hamas a foreign terrorist organization.

Naim told The Intercept that Hamas may have had a civilian office in the Al-Jalaa tower, since offices used for civilian administration are spread throughout the territory, but unequivocally denied the Israeli claim that Hamas operated a military intelligence unit in the building.

Israeli officials frequently accuse Hamas of using human shields, by concealing its military and intelligence work in civilians areas. Critics of Hamas accuse the organization of lying to the media for propaganda purposes, claiming that the group inflates death tolls and stages events for sympathy; sometimes, though not always, such allegations are debunked.

Last week, the Israeli military lied to the international press about a ground invasion of Gaza. News media organizations then reported an invasion, which tricked Hamas into exposing its military positions for Israeli airstrikes.

Naim said he and other Hamas officials believe that Israel targeted the building in order to make it more difficult for Associated Press and Al-Jazeera journalists to disseminate reports, videos, and photographs of Israeli air and artillery assaults on Gaza.

“This is one of the strategies of the Israeli military — to prevent the press from doing its job,” he said. He pointed to a video that circulated widely online May 15 of the owner of the Al-Jalaa building pleading by phone with an Israeli military official to allow 10 more minutes for journalists to reenter the building and collect more of their equipment.

The Israelis declined the request and bombed the building without providing additional time. Since the building had been evacuated, no one was killed.

The Associated Press released a statement from its president and CEO, Gary Pruitt, who said he was “shocked and horrified” by the bombing.

“AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years,” Pruitt said. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”

In a similar statement, Al-Jazeera Media Network’s acting Director General Mostefa Souag said: “The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza.”

Palestinian officials say at least 200 people, including more than 50 children, have been killed in attacks on Gaza. In Israel, 10 people, including two children, have been killed in rocket attacks by Hamas and other militant groups. In this decadeslong conflict, the violence of the last week has been the worst since 2014.

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