Israel is offering to help the Associated Press rebuild their office in Gaza after it was destroyed by an Israeli airstrike in last month’s bombings.
“Israel is willing to assist AP in rebuilding its offices and operations in Gaza,” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, tweeted on Tuesday.
Erdan met with top AP executives in New York this week to discuss the Israel Defense Force’s decision to bomb the 12-story building, which Israel alleged was used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
While AP called the meeting “positive and constructive,” the news organization has continued to question Israel’s claim that Hamas militants used the building.
“Israeli authorities maintain that the building housing our bureau was destroyed because of a Hamas presence that posed an urgent threat. We have yet to receive evidence to support these claims,” the AP said in a statement shared with Newsweek. “AP continues to call for the full release of any evidence the Israelis have so that the facts are public.”
On May 15, the al-Jalaa building in Gaza City, which also houses Al Jazeera offices, was destroyed in a targeted airstrike after three heavy missiles caused the building to collapse to the ground.
The building was evacuated when the owner received a telephoned warning that the strike was imminent within an hour.
“Israel did everything to ensure no employees or civilians were hurt during this operation,” Erdan said. “In contrast, Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization that purposely places its terror machine in civilian areas, including in buildings being used by international media outlets.”
While staffers and other tenants made it out safely, the attack raised international concerns that the safety of independent journalists and media organizations in the Gaza Strip was being threatened directly by the Israeli government.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in the immediate aftermath of the bombing.
Pruitt called it an “incredibly disturbing development” and disputed claims that militants used the building for their operations against Israel.
“We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” Pruitt said. “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.”
The AP had operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas, without being targeted.
On Tuesday, Erdan continued to defend Israel’s suspicions that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building but added that AP may not have known of their presence.
“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,” Erdan tweeted.
“I reaffirmed that Israel upholds the importance of press freedom and strives to ensure the safety of journalists wherever they are reporting,” he added.