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Israel-Gaza: US asks for 'justification' for air strike on media building

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he has not seen evidence for Israel’s claims that Hamas was operating in al-Jalaa Tower
The al-Jalaa building housing Middle East Eye, Associated Press and Al Jazeera media offices is hit by an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, 15 May 2021 (Reuters)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that Washington has requested a “justification” for an Israeli air strike on a building in Gaza housing media offices, adding that he has not seen evidence linking Hamas to the al-Jalaa Tower.

Israel on Saturday bombed the 12-storey building, which was a base for a number of media outlets including Middle East Eye, Al Jazeera, the Associated Press and other local media organisations, claiming that Hamas has a military intelligence office in al-Jalaa.

Israel had given an hour's notice to the occupants of the building, which also contained residential homes, to evacuate before the building was destroyed in an air strike.

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Blinken said he had not personally seen any information provided by Israeli authorities, and chose not to comment on the legitimacy of the strike, adding that he “will leave it to others to characterise if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information”.

Journalists, including Middle East Eye’s photojournalist, Muhammed Hajjar, were forced to flee the building and were denied the chance to save their media equipment by Israeli intelligence.

"This bombing is yet another attempt by Israel to dominate the narrative by excluding factual reporting of their air strikes on Gaza,” MEE said in a statement condemning the attack on al-Jalaa tower.

“There is now mounting evidence that civilian towers with no military usage or record of involvement are being targeted by the Israeli air force.”

Rising pressure

Pressure is mounting on the Biden’s administration to call for a ceasefire, as Israel’s intense bombing on Gaza enters its second week. 

Gaza’s health ministry said at least 220 people, including 59 children, have been killed in Gaza and over 1,300 wounded since Israel launched its military campaign on the besieged enclave on 10 May.

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Meanwhile, tensions have boiled over in cities and towns across the occupied West Bank and Israel, as Israeli forces violently cracked down on daily Palestinian protests against the planned expulsion of families in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, and attacks on al-Aqsa mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Mixed towns in Israel have also witnessed armed confrontations between Palestinian citizens of Israel and Jewish ultra-nationalists, backed by Israeli police.

US envoy Hady Amr met Palestinian officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Monday and Blinken said US officials had been "working around the clock" to calm the situation, but stopped short of calling for a ceasefire.

"The United States remains greatly concerned by the escalating violence. Hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble," he said after talks with Denmark's foreign minister in Copenhagen.

The US told the United Nations Security Council on Sunday it has made clear that it is ready to offer support "should the parties seek a ceasefire".

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday Israel's war on Gaza would "take time" and continue "as long as necessary”.

The Biden administration has approved the sale of $735m in precision-guided weapons to Israel, The Washington Post reported on Monday. Official filings showed that the US Congress was notified about the sale on 5 May.