The airstrikes came six days into renewed conflict between Israel and Hamas. They took place roughly an hour after Israeli military ordered an evacuation of the Al-Jalaa tower building, which housed the outlets’ bureaus as well as residential apartments.
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AP reports that three heavy missiles hit the 12-story building, which collapsed. Military phoned in a warning an hour ahead of time, notifying tenants that the strike was imminent. Video published by independent news outlet Middle East Eye, which also held offices in the building, shows Al-Jalaa owner Abu Husam pleading with Israeli officials over the phone to allow journalists to return to the building to collect some gear before the airstrikes. The request was denied.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) confirmed the attack, stating that Al-Jalaa contained “Hamas military intelligence assets.”
“The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields,” reads a statement that was posted to social media.
AP occupied the top-floor office of Al-Jalaa for 15 years. The hub, which included a roof terrace, was a “prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014.” The agency reports that its camera offered “24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.”
Responding to the attack on the Gaza bureau, AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt issued a statement on Saturday: “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. They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit.
“We are seeking information from the Israeli government and are engaged with the U.S. State Department to try to learn more. This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time. The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
In a separate statement, Al Jazeera said it condemns “in the strongest terms” the bombing and destruction of its offices.
Dr Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, said: “We call on the international community to condemn such barbaric actions and targeting of journalists and we demand an immediate international action to hold Israel accountable for its deliberate targeting of journalists and the media institutions.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” added Souag. “The destruction of Al Jazeera offices and that of other media organizations in al-Jalaa tower in Gaza is a blatant violation of human rights and is internationally considered a war crime. We call on all media and human rights institutions in denouncing this heinous crime, and to stand with Al Jazeera and other media organisations targeted by the Israeli army, despite knowing their use of the building as their headquarters for many years.”
Saturday’s bombing is being viewed as an attack on press freedom. The New York-headquartered Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) was swift in responding to the events, noting that targeting a building long recognized as a media hub for international outlets suggests the IDF is “deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.”
CPJ executive director Joel Simon added: “We demand that the Israeli government provide a detailed and documented justification for this military attack on a civilian facility given the possible violation of international humanitarian law. Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it.”
This week’s attacks are the worst flare-up of tensions between Israel and Palestine since 2014. It is believed that 140 have been killed in Gaza, while nine have been killed in Israel.
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