By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Israel destroyed a 12-storey tower block in Gaza housing the offices of the U.S.-based Associated Press and offices of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera on Saturday, saying the building was also used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
Courtesy Video: Reuters Showing The Bombing
The Israeli military said its fighter jets struck a multi-storey building “which contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization”. It however said it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building, allowing them to get out, thus no casualties and fatalities were reported atleast as of Saturday night.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the strike “an incredibly disturbing development.” He said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building and had been evacuated in time.
“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,” he said in a statement.”The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
The U.S. government said it had told Israel to ensure the safety of journalists.
“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Pruitt on Saturday evening and “offered his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world,” a State Department spokesman said in a statement.
The acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the strike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held accountable.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.
Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus rejected the notion that Israel was seeking to silence the media. “That is totally false, the media is not the target,” he said.
Conricus called the building a legitimate military target, saying it contained Hamas military intelligence. He said Hamas might have calculated that by placing their “assets” inside a building with news media offices in it “they probably hoped that would keep them safe from Israeli attack.”
The Israeli military has said during nearly a week of intense conflict that its strikes on buildings in Gaza are aimed at hitting targets used by Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the enclave.
Hamas militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel during the latest violence. Palestinian medics say at least 140 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
The destruction of the building came the day after U.S. President Joe Biden’s envoy Hady Amr arrived in Israel amid diplomatic efforts to restore calm.
Asked why the entire building was destroyed, Conricus said: “There was no way of taking down only the Hamas facilities that were in the building. They occupied several floors in the building and it was impossible only to take down those floors. It was deemed necessary to take down the whole building.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. President Joe Biden in a phone call that Israel is doing everything to avoid harming non-combatants in its fighting with Hamas and other groups in Gaza.
The Washington-based National Press Club said Saturday’s strike on the Gaza tower had followed “bombing by Israeli warplanes of two other buildings housing more than a dozen media outlets” on May 11 and 12.