NEW YORK – News organizations demanded an explanation on Saturday for an Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a building in Gaza City housing the offices of the Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets.
PA journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated from the 12-story al-Jalaa tower after the IDF warned of an impending strike. Three heavy missiles hit the building in less than an hour, interrupting coverage of the ongoing conflict between Hamas leaders in Gaza and Israel. At least 145 people in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since fighting erupted on Monday evening.
“The world will know less about what is going on in Gaza because of what happened today,” said Gary Pruitt, PA president and CEO. He said the US news agency was seeking information from the Israeli government and engaging with the US State Department to find out more.
Mostefa Souag, acting managing director of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a “war crime” and “a clear act” to prevent journalists from reporting on the conflict. Kuwait State Television also had offices in the now collapsed Gaza City building.
“Targeting of media outlets is completely unacceptable, even during armed conflict. This represents a flagrant violation of human rights and internationally recognized standards, ”said Barbara Trionfi, Executive Director of the International Press Institute.
In a standard Israeli response, the military said Hamas was operating inside the building and accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields. But he provided no evidence to support the claims.
IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus claimed Hamas had used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development. He said “a very advanced technological tool” that the militant group used in the fighting was “inside or on the building”.
But Conricus said he couldn’t provide evidence to support the claims without “compromising” intelligence efforts. He added, however, “I think it’s a legitimate request to see more information, and I’ll try to provide it.”
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 that Israel “provide a detailed and documented justification” for the strike.
“This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house the international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces are deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of human suffering in Gaza,” said the group’s executive director. , Joel Simon. in a report.
The attack follows media dismay at an Israeli military statement that prompted some news organizations, including the Wall Street Journal, to erroneously report early Friday that Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza.
Israeli military commentators said the media had been used in a ruse to lure Hamas militants into a death trap. Conricus denied that the military engaged in any deliberate deception when it falsely tweeted on Friday that the ground forces were engaging in Gaza, calling it an “honest mistake.”
The PA, based on its analysis of the military statement, phone calls to military officials and reports on the ground in Gaza, concluded that there was no ground incursion and no did not report that there had been one.
The strike against a building known to house international media offices came as a shock to journalists who felt relatively protected there.
“Now you can understand the feeling of people whose homes have been destroyed by this kind of airstrikes,” Safwat al-Kahlout, producer of Al-Jazeera, who was at the Gaza office told Saturday. when the evacuation warning came. . “It’s really hard to wake up one day and then you realize that your office is not there with all the career experiences, the memories that you have had.
For 15 years, PA’s top-floor offices and the roof terrace of the now-destroyed building provided a prime location to cover the fighting in Gaza. The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live footage this week as Hamas rockets arched into Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city.
Just a day before the bombing, PA correspondent Fares Akram wrote in a personal story that the PA office was the only place in Gaza where he felt “somewhat safe” .
“The IDF has the coordinates of the skyscraper, so it’s less likely that a bomb will crash it,” Akram wrote.
The next day, Akram tweeted about running away from the building and watching its destruction from a distance.
The New York Times joined with other news outlets in expressing concern over the targeting of the al-Jalaa Tower.
“The ability of the press to report on the ground is a deeply important issue that impacts everyone,” said the newspaper’s vice president of communications Danielle Rhoades Ha. “A free and independent press is essential to help inform people. , bridge the differences and end the conflict. “
Associate Press Editor Jon Gambrell in Dubai and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this story.