Israeli airstrike destroys Gaza building that housed media offices

Hours later, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a top leader of Gaza’s ruling militant Hamas group.

Israeli airstrike destroys Gaza building that housed media offices

An Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets.

Hours later, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a top leader of Gaza’s ruling militant Hamas group.

The Israeli military said al-Hayeh’s home served as part of what it said was the militant group’s “terrorist infrastructure”.

Al-Hayeh is a senior figure in the Hamas political leadership in Gaza, and the attack marked a further escalation, signalling that Israel is going after Hamas’ top leadership and not just military commanders.

His fate after the strike was not known.

Earlier, AP staff and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent within an hour.

Three heavy missiles struck the 12-storey building, collapsing it in a giant cloud of dust.

For 15 years, the AP’s top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014.

The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP president and chief executive Gary Pruitt said in a statement.

“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organisations in Gaza.”

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A ball of fire erupts from a building housing international media (Mahmud Hams/Pool/AP)

The building also housed the offices of Qatari-run Al-Jazeera TV, as well as residential apartments.

The Israeli military said Hamas was operating inside the building, a standard explanation, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.

Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current 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 spectre that the Israel Defence 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.

The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said Mr Abbas updated Mr Biden on the escalations across the Palestinian territories and said he was working to halt “the Israeli aggression against our people and to reach a ceasefire”.

The report said Mr Abbas told Mr Biden that “security and stability will be achieved when the Israeli occupation ends”, adding that Palestinians are ready and willing to work toward peace with international mediators.

Mr Biden has previously urged a de-escalation in the conflict, but has publicly backed Israel’s right to self-defence from Hamas rockets fired from Gaza.

Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes.

In Gaza, at least 145 people have been killed, including 41 children and 23 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Saturday.

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Smoke billows from a building housing various international media, including The Associated Press (Mahmud Hams/Pool/AP)

There were also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.

The spiralling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada”, or uprising, when peace talks have not taken place in years.

Palestinians on Saturday were marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who were expelled from or fled their homes in what was now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation.

That raised the possibility of even more unrest.

US diplomat Hady Amr arrived Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the UN Security Council was set to meet Sunday.

As the hostilities continued, an Israeli bombardment struck a three-storey house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp on Saturday, killing eight children aged 14 and under and two women from an extended family.

Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with her brother’s wife and three of their children. All were killed instantly, he said.

The only known survivor from Hadidi’s family was his five-month-old son Omar; another son, 11-year-old Yahya, was missing, he said.

Children’s toys and a Monopoly board game could be seen among the rubble, as well as plates of uneaten food from the holiday gathering.

“There was no warning,” Jamal Al-Naji, a neighbour living in the same building, said.

“You filmed people eating and then you bombed them?” he said, addressing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”

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The building housing AP offices in Gaza City moments after Israeli warplanes demolished it (Hatem Moussa/AP)

A video broadcast by Al-Jazeera showed the building’s owner, Jawwad Mahdi, pleading over the phone with an Israeli intelligence officer to wait 10 minutes to allow journalists to go inside the building to retrieve valuable equipment before it is bombed.

“All I’m asking is to let four people … to go inside and get their cameras,” he says. “We respect your wishes, we will not do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.”

When the officer rejected the request, Mahdi said, “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up, do what you want. There is a God.”

Al-Jazeera, the news network funded by Qatar’s government, broadcast the airstrikes live as the building collapsed.

“This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” Halla Mohieddeen, presenter for Al-Jazeera English said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

A furious Israeli barrage early Friday killed a family of six in their house and sent thousands fleeing to UN-run shelters.

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A protester waves the Palestinian flag during clashes with the Israeli forces at the Hawara checkpoint (Majdi Mohammed/AP)

Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said the military aims to minimise collateral damage in striking military targets. But measures it takes in other strikes, such as warning shots to get civilians to leave, were not “feasible this time”.

Israeli media said the military believed dozens of militants were killed inside the tunnels. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, but the military said the real number is far higher.

Gaza’s infrastructure, already in widespread disrepair because of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007, showed signs of breaking down further, compounding residents’ misery.

Israel’s Electric Company says that high voltage lines supplying the Gaza Strip with electricity were damaged by rocket fire by Palestinian militants.

The company said five of the 10 lines have been damaged, in the latest escalation of fighting and that the company cannot fix them because there is no access to the area.

Gaza’s only other source of electricity – besides the power provided by Israel – is its single power plant, which has been working only partially due to fuel shortages. However, both sources are insufficient to cover Gazans’ needs.

Outages of at least eight hours have long been a daily occurrence in the strip and with the power plant not working at regular capacity, rolling blackouts have increased to 12-15 hours per day recently.

The impoverished and densely populated territory is home to two million Palestinians, most of them the descendants of refugees from what is now Israel.

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