Israel flattened a 12-storey building in Gaza City that had housed the US Associated Press and Qatar-based Al Jazeera media operations, prompting outcry from journalists and social media users.
News organisations have demanded an explanation for an Israeli air strike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza building housing the offices of The Associated Press, broadcaster Al Jazeera and other media outlets.
AP journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated from the 12-story Al Jalaa tower after the Israeli military warned of an imminent strike. Three heavy missiles hit the building within the hour, disrupting coverage of the ongoing conflict. At least 145 people in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the fighting erupted on Monday night.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said. He said the American news agency was seeking information from the Israeli government and engaging with the US State Department to learn more.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt’s statement after AP’s Gaza bureau was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike:— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) May 15, 2021
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life...the world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.” pic.twitter.com/cW9VaBEDVm
Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a “war crime” and a “clear act” to stop journalists from reporting on the conflict. Kuwait state television also had office space in the now-collapsed Gaza City building.
“The targeting of news organisations is completely unacceptable, even during an armed conflict. It represents a gross violation of human rights and internationally agreed norms,” Barbara Trionfi, the executive director of the International Press Institute, said.
Video shows AP, AJ and other journalists gathering their equipments and gear to evacuate their offices in the 12-story al-Jala’ residential building in the heart of Gaza before bombed and destroyed it to the ground by missiles fired from its warplanes today. #Gaza #غزة_الآن pic.twitter.com/jCtctH0O4R— Ali Younes (@Ali_reports) May 15, 2021
Israeli military claimed that Hamas was operating inside the building, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus claimed that Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development.
He said “a highly advanced technological tool” that the militant group used in the fighting was “within or on the building."
But Conricus said he could not provide evidence to back up the claims without “compromising” intelligence efforts. He added, however: “I think it’s a legitimate request to see more information, and I will try to provide it.”
Attempt to hinder Gaza coverage?
Some press freedom advocates said the strike raised suspicions that Israel was trying to hinder coverage of the conflict. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded Israel “provide a detailed and documented justification” for the strike.
“This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza,” the group’s executive director, Joel Simon, said in a statement.
Media blackout is a war tactic that prevents journalists from reporting on civilian casualties & stops the world from seeing immediate horrors of war but reports of children dying didn’t trigger same political /mainstream response because deaths in Gaza have become a statistic— Hind Hassan (@HindHassanNews) May 15, 2021
The strike on a building known to have the offices of international media outlets came as a shock to reporters who had felt relatively protected there.
“Now, one can understand the feeling of the people whose homes have been destroyed by such kind of air attacks,” Al Jazeera producer Safwat al Kahlout, who was at the bureau in Gaza when the evacuation warning came, told the broadcaster Saturday. “It’s really difficult to wake up one day and then you realize that your office is not there with all the career experiences, memories that you’ve had.”
For 15 years, AP’s top floor offices and roof terrace on the now-destroyed building had provided a prime location for covering fighting in Gaza.
The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots this week as Israeli air strikes hammered the city.
Just a day before the bombing, AP correspondent Fares Akram wrote in a personal story that the AP office was the only place in Gaza were he felt “somewhat safe.”
“The Israeli military has the coordinates of the high-rise, so it’s less likely a bomb will bring it crashing down,” Akram wrote.
The next day, Akram tweeted about running from the building and watching its destruction from afar.
Smoke rising from what was the building housing our @AP office in #Gaza moments after Israeli jets destroyed it. I and my colleagues evacuated safely, leaving behind our best memories. Thank you for all your wishes. I’m sorry I can’t respond to inquiries now as we are overwhelmed pic.twitter.com/5ccRQggckD— Fares Akram (@faresakram) May 15, 2021
The New York Times joined other news organisations in expressing alarm about the targeting of al Jalaa tower.
“The ability of the press to report on the ground is a profoundly important issue that has an impact on everyone." the newspaper's vice president of communications, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said. “A free and independent press is essential to helping to inform people, bridge differences and end the conflict.”