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Israeli media offensive falters with Blinken comments, rocket emojis, more censorship

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he has not seen any Israeli evidence that Hamas was operating from a tower block housing foreign media that was destroyed in a targeted airstrike.

The Associated Press and other media companies, as well as various international businesses including consultancy Ernst & Young, had offices in the tower block.

The Israeli military said the attack on Al-Jalaa tower, which has sparked significant backlash from global media and human rights groups, was due to it housing Hamas military intelligence officials. But Blinken said he had not yet seen evidence to support this claim.

The Associated Press, a large US media agency, has called on the Israeli government to “put forward the evidence.”

The company’s President Gary Pruitt said: “AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. 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.”

Meanwhile Israel has come under fire for posting hundreds of rocket emojis on the state’s Twitter account on Monday amid its heavy bombardment of Gaza.

The social media account, reportedly managed by the foreign minister, claimed that the posts refer to the number of rockets fired at Israeli citizens by Hamas. 

Israel clarified that the tweets were merely an attempt to give viewers a perspective on the recent airstrikes. 

The tweets were accompanied by a message that read: “Just to give you all some perspective, these (rocket emojis) are the total amount of rockets shot at Israeli civilians. Each one of these rockets is meant to kill. Make no mistake. Every rocket has an address. What would you do if that address was yours?”

Critics argued, however, that the posts, which came amid fresh Israeli strikes on Gaza, were insensitive. 

The Israeli bombing campaign has killed at least 213 Palestinians so far, including 61 children, with more than 1,400 people wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The tweets were met with heavy criticism online. Louis Fishman, an associate professor at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, tweeted that “Israel has lost the diplomatic front in this war. It is now left to emojis. Really, this is pathetic.”

Others online called the tweet “sickeningly cruel and vindictive”, “deranged” and “beyond vile.” 

Israel has escalated its violent campaign on Palestine, with more than 52,000 Palestinians displaced and hundreds of buildings destroyed in the Gaza Strip.

In a similar vein social media footage has shown CNN staff being surrounded and pushed by Israeli forces.

The clip shows Ben Wedeman, a CNN senior correspondent, being encircled by Israeli soldiers near a stone barrier before being shoved away from it.

Wedeman, who has reported on conflicts in Syria and a previous war in Gaza in 2014, can be seen walking away despondently while inspecting his hand, which may have been injured during the incident. 

The video was tweeted by Mark Stone, Sky News’ Middle East correspondent, who has been reporting for the broadcaster from the region.

In the same clip, another member of the press is seen being violently pushed by another soldier.

The Sky News reporter indicated that the behavior by the Israeli forces in the video isn’t an isolated incident.

“It’s happened to us all this week,” he says before recounting an interaction with Israeli police.

“Today I walked past a policeman. I smiled and said hello. ‘F*ck off’ he said,” the reporter wrote.

In another Tweet, Stone says: “I saw a lot more instances of entirely unnecessary, provocative behavior by Israeli police/military today. At Damascus Gate (stun grenades thrown at peaceful Palestinian group), in Sheikh Jarrah (skunk water fired on Palestinian homes) & Bethlehem (volleys of tear gas).”

On Tuesday, the continuing violent exchanges of heavy airstrikes and rocket fire between Israelis and Palestinians claimed more lives.

Protestors and Israeli security forces clashed at multiple locations across the occupied West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

On Saturday, an Israeli strike destroyed a building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press (AP) and other media outlets. The building was evacuated before the strike.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said he had not seen any Israeli evidence that Hamas was operating from the building.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said his organization was seeking “information from the Israeli government and are engaged with the US State Department to try to learn more” and said the “world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

According to Aidan White, founder of the Ethical Journalism Network, the destruction of media assets in Gaza City is serious but by no means unusual. “If one looks back over the past 25 years, the targeting of media institutions and journalists themselves has increased dramatically,” he told Arab News.

This is happening “not least because the capacity of the media to report from war zones — and to be able to report wrongdoing and inappropriate behavior or war crimes — is greatly enhanced, and changing technology has had a lot to do with it.”

Source: Arab News,

Written by The Levant