Israeli strikes destroy Gaza tower housing Al Jazeera and other media

The Israeli army told the owner of the Al-Jalaa tower about the strike an hour before the bombing

Ian Johnston@montaukian
Saturday 15 May 2021 23:54
A building housing the offices of civilian media organisations AP and Al Jazeera are brought to the ground by Israeli missiles

An Israeli airstrike has destroyed a building in Gaza that houses international media offices including Al Jazeera and the Associated Press.

The Israeli army told the owner of the Al-Jalaa tower about the strike an hour before the bombing. AP staff and others in the building evacuated immediately.

It is currently unclear whether there were casualties in the attack. Video footage shows the 12-storey building collapse, with smoke billowing from it and debris flying into the air.

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,” an on-air anchorwoman said. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

AP’s CEO Gary Pruitt said he was “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza”.

The tower also contained several apartments and other offices.

An Israeli military spokesperson confirmed the army struck the media building in Gaza, saying it contained “Hamas military intelligence”.

“Hamas deliberately places military targets at the heart of densely populated civilian areas in the Gaza Strip,” the spokesperson added, also saying that the army gave people inside the building “ample time to evacuate”.

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 said. "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."

An Al-Jazeera director, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the airstrike a “blatant violation of human rights and is internationally considered a war crime”.

Late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the building was used by Hamas military intelligence. "It was not an innocent building," he said.

Israel routinely cites a Hamas presence as a reason for targeting buildings. It also accused the group of using journalists as human shields.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza rose after an Israeli air raid killed at least 10 Palestinians from the same family in the deadliest single strike since violence erupted in the region earlier this week.

The strike on a three-storey house in a refugee camp in the city is understood to have killed eight children and two women from an extended family.

Official figures show that 139 Palestinians have been killed, including 39 children, and nine people killed on the other side in Israel.

Meanwhile, Israel said that since Monday the country has been under the “most intense rocket barrage ever” from Gaza, saying it was worse than the seven-week 2014 war in terms of quantity and speed.

The official, who spoke to foreign reporters on the condition of anonymity, said that since Monday Hamas and other militants in Gaza had fired over 2,300 rockets, which is five times the total amount of rockets fired at Israel during the whole of 2020.

He added that Israel has hit back with equally unprecedented intensity: during a 40-minute ground and air bombardment on Gaza on Friday early morning, he said, the military had dropped a staggering 500 tonnes of munitions on the blockaded strip.

The army said it was targeting an underground network of tunnels the call the “metro”.

“The escalation this time is much more or intense and fast than the 2014 war,” he told The Independent during a briefing with foreign reporters. “It’s the most intense barrage of airstrikes ever.”

The senior official also claimed that that Israeli military had “totally destroyed” all of Hamas’s missile manufacturing capabilities in Gaza, after the air force struck 31 different production compounds.

“We have to destroy their missile manufacturing infrastructure. What [rockets] they have now is what they already had,” he added. The Independent was unable to verify these claims.

The Biden administration’s envoy Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary for Israel and Palestinian affairs, arrived in Israel on Friday hoping to be able to bring both sides down from the brink.

Egyptian mediators, who were furiously shuttling between the two sides, have so far failed to broker a deal. 

The Israeli official said his country would have “zero tolerance” towards any missile fired at the country.

The military admitted that during Friday’s overnight offensive, which they said targeted operatives responsible for ground force interceptors, the army pretended to launch a ground invasion in Gaza to encourage militants to return to their tunnels which were then pounded.

There were reports that the army even deliberately misled foreign media with a tweet suggesting there were Israeli troops within the Strip.

“[The bombardment] was a huge blow morally to Hamas,” he said, without ruling out that the barrage might “soften the ground” for an actual ground invasion.

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