May 15, 2021 – 23:32
A high-rise building in Gaza, home to the offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera, was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes on Saturday as the worst violence between Israel and Palestinian militants since 2014 continues to escalate.
Israeli planes carried out airstrikes in Gaza and Hamas militants responded by firing rockets into Israel as violence between the two sides continued into the fifth night.
A 12-storey building, with apartments and offices other than media organizations, was shot down by Israeli missiles after the owner of the building received a phone warning from the Israeli army an hour before the attack that it would be hit.
AP workers and other residents were evacuated immediately, but Al-Jazeera continued to broadcast airstrikes as the building collapsed.
“Al-Jazeera will not be silent,” said one host.
“We can guarantee you that.”
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement that the news organization was “shocked and horrified” by the attack on the building, noting that it had received a warning from Israel.
Pruitt said the AP was seeking information from Israel and the US State Department about the attack, in which 12 employees “narrowly escaped a horrific loss of life.”
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of this attack that happened today,” Pruitt warned.
The acting director general of the Al Jazeera network, Dr. Mostefa Souag, called the airstrike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held accountable.
The Israeli military said without giving evidence that it had destroyed the building because intelligence operatives within the Islamic militant group Hamas were using media offices as “human shields”. “The purpose of this heinous crime is to silence the media, to cover up the massacre and the untold suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.
Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus dismissed the idea that Israel was seeking to silence the media.
“This is completely wrong, the media is not targeted,” he told Reuters.
Hamas militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel during recent violence. Palestinian doctors say at least 140 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the White House said on Saturday.
President Biden reaffirmed that the United States “strongly supports Israel’s right to defend itself against rocket attacks by Hamas” in its call to Netanyahu.
President Biden also spoke with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, conveying the message of American commitment to strengthening the United States’ partnership with the Palestinians.
The demolition of the building came a day after President Biden’s envoy Hady Amr arrived in Israel amid diplomatic efforts to restore calm.
Asked why the entire building was destroyed, Lt. Col. Conricus said: “There was no way to destroy just the Hamas facilities inside the building. They occupied several floors in the building and it was impossible to demolish them alone. “It was considered necessary for the whole building to collapse.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden in a phone call that Israel is doing everything possible to avoid harming civilians in its fights with Hamas and other groups in Gaza.
Netanyahu said the evidence was that during the recent Israeli attacks on high-rise towers “in which terrorist groups were attacked by the military, civilians were evacuated,” a summary of a telephone conversation made public by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office said.
The Washington-based National Press Club said Saturday’s attack on the Gaza building had been followed by “Israeli warplanes bombing two other buildings housing more than 12 media outlets” on May 11 and 12.
“This trend raises the question of whether Israeli forces are attacking these agencies to undermine independent and accurate coverage of the conflict,” the group said in a statement.
An Al Jazeera report on the attack, published on its English-language website, quoted journalist Safwat al-Kahlout as saying: “I have worked here for 11 years. I have covered many events from this building, we have experienced personal experiences. Now everything, in two seconds, is gone. ”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki wrote on Twitter, “We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of independent journalists and media is a key responsibility.”
The building was destroyed hours after another Israeli airstrike on an overcrowded refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians, mostly children. It was the only deadly airstrike since the violence began to intensify earlier this week. Another airstrike killed at least two people, Palestinian health officials said.
Tensions escalated further on Saturday as Palestinians marked Nakba Day or Catastrophe Day, commemorating the destruction of the Palestinian homeland in 1948 for the creation of Israel./VOA