The violence between Israelis and Palestinians intensified Saturday as an Israeli airstrike destroyed a large high-rise building in Gaza City that housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al-Jazeera. Israeli officials ordered the evacuation of the 12-story building, which also housed other media outlets, offices, and homes, about an hour before the strike that collapsed the structure into a pile of rubble. “We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza,” AP’s CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “This is an incredibly disturbing development.” There were a dozen AP journalists and freelancers inside the building before the attack but they were able to evacuate in time. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt added.
Al Jazeera broadcast the airstrike live and showed the building collapsing. “This channel will not be silenced. Al-Jazeera will not be silenced,” the network’s anchor said on-air. Al-Jazeera journalist Safwat al-Kahlout said a resident of the building received a call warning of the attack around an hour before the airstrike. He and his colleagues started gathering as much equipment as possible before evacuating the building. “Now, one can understand the feeling of the people whose homes have been destroyed by such kind of air attacks,” al-Kahlout said. “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.”
The Israel Defense Forces claimed the building also had military assets that were part of Hamas and emphasized it had given civilians plenty of time to evacuate. “Prior to the strike, the IDF provided advance warning to civilians in the building and allowed sufficient time for them to evacuate the site,” the IDF statement said. “Hamas deliberately places military targets at the heart of densely populated civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.” Al-Jazeera aired a video showing the owner of the building pleading with an Israeli officer to hold off the airstrike for a few minutes to allow journalists to collect their gear. The officer refused.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is demanding a more detailed explanation from Israel. “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,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We demand that the Israeli government provide a detailed and documented justification for this military attack on a civilian facility given the possible violation of international humanitarian law.”
The strike on the building housing media offices came mere hours after another Israeli airstrike on a refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children. Some reports claim the dead included eight children and two women. Children’s toys could be seen in the rubble of what amounted to the single deadliest strike as part of the current conflict that marks the most significant escalation in violence since 2014. Amid the airstrikes Israel said Saturday that around 2,300 rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel since Monday, about 1,000 of which were intercepted. At least 139 people, including 39 children and 22 women, have been killed in Gaza while eight people have been killed in Israel. So far, regional international efforts at diplomacy have failed to yield any results.