GAZA (Reuters) – Israel on Saturday destroyed a 12-story tower in Gaza housing the offices of the U.S. Associated Press and other news media, saying the building was also used by the militant Islamist group Hamas.
The al-Jalaa building in Gaza City, which also houses the offices of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera as well as other offices and apartments, had been evacuated after the owner received advance warning of the strike.
A Palestinian journalist was injured in the attack, Palestinian media reported, and debris and shrapnel flew tens of meters away.
The IDF said its fighter jets hit a multi-story building “which contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terrorist organization.” He said he warned civilians in the building in advance, allowing them to exit.
PA President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the strike “an incredibly disturbing development.” He said a dozen PA journalists and freelancers were in the building and were evacuated in time.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military is targeting and destroying the building housing the PA office and other news agencies in Gaza,” he said in a statement.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
The US government said it had asked Israel to ensure the safety of journalists.
“We communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a primary responsibility,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Pruitt on Saturday evening and “offered his unwavering support to independent journalists and media organizations around the world,” a State Department spokesperson said in a statement.
Al Jazeera Media Network’s acting chief executive, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the strike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held responsible.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and hide the carnage and untold suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus rejected the idea that Israel was trying to silence the media. “This is totally wrong, the media is not the target,” he told Reuters.
Conricus called the building a legitimate military target, saying it contained Hamas military intelligence. He said Hamas could have calculated that by placing their “assets” inside a building with press offices “they probably hoped it would protect them from an Israeli attack.”
The IDF said during nearly a week of intense conflict that its strikes on buildings in Gaza were aimed at hitting targets used by Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the enclave.
Hamas militants fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel in the latest violence. Palestinian doctors say at least 140 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
The destruction of the building came the day after US President Joe Biden’s envoy Hady Amr arrived in Israel amid diplomatic efforts to restore calm.
Asked why the whole building was destroyed, Conricus said, “There was no way to demolish only the Hamas facilities that were in the building. They took up several floors of the building and it was impossible to demolish it. demolish only those floors. This was deemed necessary. to demolish the whole building. “
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden in a phone call that Israel is doing everything to avoid harming non-combatants in its battles with Hamas and other groups in Gaza.
Netanyahu said proof of this was that in recent Israeli strikes on multi-storey towers “in which terrorist targets were attacked by the IDF, non-combatants were evacuated,” a summary said. phone call issued by Netanyahu’s office.
The Washington-based National Press Club said Saturday’s attack on the Gaza Tower followed “the bombardment by Israeli warplanes of two other buildings housing more than a dozen media outlets” on 11-12. may.
“This trend raises the question of whether Israeli forces are attacking these facilities to undermine independent and accurate coverage of the conflict,” the group said in a statement.
An Al Jazeera report on the strike on its English-language website quoted journalist Safwat al-Kahlout: âI have been working here for 11 years. I have covered many events from this building, we have had personal professional experiences. Now everything, in two seconds, is gone. “