Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended bombing a building in Gaza that housed media organizations as President Joe Biden expressed concern about the safety of civilians and journalists.
Netanyahu spoke on CBS’ “Face the Nation” after press freedom advocates and others condemned the Israeli military’s airstrike on a Gaza building that housed the offices of foreign media, including The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. The 12-story building was also home to apartments and other offices.
There were no reports of injuries or deaths immediately after the weekend bombing. Israel gave warning of the airstrike, which it said it carried out because it had information that Hamas had a military intelligence office in the building. It has not provided the intelligence publicly.
Netanyahu would not detail the intelligence in reiterating that a Hamas intelligence outfit had been housed in the building.
“So it’s a perfectly legitimate target,” he said. “And I can tell you that we took every precaution to make sure there were no civilian injuries — in fact, no deaths, no injuries whatsoever. Well, I can’t say injuries. I don’t know if somebody received a fragment of a stone. I don’t know that. But no people were killed.”
Efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ramped up Sunday as at least 188 Palestinians, including 55 children, have been killed in Gaza over the past week, according to figures from the Palestinian health ministry. In Israel, 10 people have been killed. Hundreds of people on both sides have been wounded.
Pressed about whether his political situation played a role in the escalation, Netanyahu, who has struggled for months to form a new government as others seek to unseat him, said the idea was “preposterous.”
“I think anyone who knows me knows I have never, ever subordinated security concerns, the life of our soldiers, the life of our citizens, for political interests,” he said. “That’s just hogwash.”
On broader elements of the conflict, Netanyahu said that Israel has a right to self-defense and that Israeli leaders will “do whatever it takes to restore order,” adding that he hopes the conflict ends soon but that the end won’t be “immediate.”
Also speaking on “Face the Nation,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the U.S. needs “to do everything possible to bring about a cease-fire.”
“I think the administration needs to push harder on Israel and the Palestinian Authority to stop the violence,” he said.
At a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the violence Sunday, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the fighting was “appalling” and that it had wrought “unconscionable death” and immense suffering.
“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” he said.
The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the U.S. “calls on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians and to respect international humanitarian law.”
“We also urge all parties to protect medical and other humanitarian facilities, as well as journalists and media organizations,” she said. “We are particularly concerned about protecting U.N. facilities as civilians seek shelter in about two dozen of them.”
She said the human toll of the conflict was “devastating,” adding, “It’s time to end the cycle of violence.”
“We urge all parties to avoid actions that undermine a peaceful future,” she said. “This includes avoiding incitement, violent attacks and terrorist acts, as well as evictions — including in East Jerusalem — demolitions and settlement construction east of the 1967 lines. And critically, all parties need to uphold and respect the historic status quo at the holy sites.”
Biden spoke Saturday with Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In his conversation with Netanyahu, Biden “reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks from Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza,” according to a White House readout of the call.
“The president noted that this current period of conflict has tragically claimed the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians, including children,” the readout said. “He raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection. The president shared his grave concern about the violence across the region. He welcomed the statements by the prime minister and other leaders opposing such hateful acts and encouraged continued steps to hold violent extremists accountable and to establish calm.”
The White House readout of Biden’s call with Abbas said the two leaders “discussed the current tensions in Jerusalem and the West Bank and expressed their shared desire for Jerusalem to be a place of peaceful coexistence for people of all faiths and backgrounds.”
“President Biden updated President Abbas on U.S. diplomatic engagement on the ongoing conflict and stressed the need for Hamas to cease firing rockets into Israel,” the readout said. “They expressed their shared concern that innocent civilians, including children, have tragically lost their lives amidst the ongoing violence.”
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin spoke Saturday with his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz. The Defense Department said Austin “reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.”
“He strongly condemned the continued onslaught of attacks by Hamas and other terrorists groups targeting Israeli civilians,” the Pentagon said. “The secretary shared his view on the need to restore calm.”
Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Saturday that he is “deeply troubled by reports of Israeli military actions that resulted in the death of innocent civilians in Gaza as well as Israeli targeting of buildings housing international media outlets.”
“In response to thousands of rocket attacks fired by Hamas aimed at civilians, Israel has every right to self-defense from terrorists committed to wipe her off the face of the map,” he continued. “But no matter how dangerous and real that threat may be, I have always believed the strength of the U.S.-Israeli relationship flourishes when it is based on the shared values of democracy, freedom, pluralism, and respect for human rights and the rule of law.”