Israeli officials have privately expressed “regret” for blowing up a tower in the Gaza Strip that contained foreign media offices, it emerged on Sunday, as Palestinians began cleaning up the enclave’s rubble-strewn streets.
In Gaza City, groups of young men and women used brooms to sweep dust and debris from the main roads, as outdoor vigils were held for the 248 victims of Israeli airstrikes and artillery fire.
US officials estimate that the cost of repairing Gaza’s damaged hospitals, school and infrastructure will amount to several billion dollars, while the United Nations says hundreds of homes have been completely destroyed.
It came as the New York Times reported that some Israeli military officials now “regret” a decision to strike the media tower in Gaza City, which contained the offices of Associated Press, a major US news agency, and the broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
Israel maintains that the airstrike was justified as it claims that Hamas assets were in the building. The Israeli army gave reporters an hour to evacuate the tower, and no one was killed in the attack.
But according to the New York Times, some Israeli military officials had argued against the air strike and now consider it a “mistake.”
One official also felt that the damage caused by the strike to Israel’s international reputation outweighed the benefits of destroying Hamas equipment, the report added, citing three sources.
Hamas denies that its assets were in the media tower and has accused Israel of committing “war crimes” by attacking civilian buildings, though Israel rejects this.
In an interview with the Telegraph on Sunday, a senior Hamas official blamed Israel for the outbreak of the conflict in Gaza and warned that the Jewish state was “playing with fire.”
Dr Bassem Naim, the head of the Hamas office of international relations in Gaza, said that scenes of Israeli police officers beating Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa mosque were what led to the militant group launching a rocket at Jerusalem.
Another significant factor, he said, was the attempted eviction of Palestinians from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The families facing eviction say Israel is trying to forcibly replace them with Jewish settlers.
“When it comes to the last escalation, the story started when the Israelis, against international law… [were] forcefully evicting our people from Sheikh Jarrah, insulting our peaceful worshippers in al-Aqsa compound, in the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.
Israel denies using excessive force to control protests at al-Aqsa, the third holiest site in Islam, and has claimed that the row in Sheikh Jarrah is merely a “real estate dispute between private parties.”
Also on Sunday, Israel escorted 120 Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism, which also houses the al-Aqsa compound.
Micky Rosenfeld, an Israeli police spokesman, said the site was open for “regular visits” and that police were on the scene to prevent “incidents” involving Palestinians.