Israel destroys Gaza tower housing AP and Al Jazeera offices
Israel destroyed a 12-storey tower block in Gaza City housing the offices of the U.S.-based Associated Press and other news media on Saturday, saying the building was also used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
The building, which also houses the offices of Qatar-based broadcaster Al Jazeera as well as other offices and apartments, had been evacuated after the owner received advanced warning of the impending strike.
A Palestinian journalist was wounded in the strike, Palestinian media reported, and debris and shrapnel flew dozens of yards away.
The Israeli military said its "fighter jets struck a multi-story building which contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization".
It said it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building, allowing them to get out.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruit called the strike "an incredibly disturbing development" and 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 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. Palestinians medics say, at least 139 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported nine dead, including two children.
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 told Reuters.
Conricus called the building a legitimate military target, saying it contained Hamas military intelligence. He said Hamas may 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".
Al Jazeera also carried a report on the strike on its English-language website.
It quoted journalist Safwat al-Kahlout as saying: “I have been working here for 11 years. I have been covering many events from this building, we have lived personal professional experiences. Now everything, in two seconds, just vanished.”
Asked why the entire building was destroyed, Conricus said there was no way of destroying only the Hamas targets. Those, he said, "occupied several floors in the building.... it was deemed necessary to take down the whole building."
The tower had a large telecommunications antenna on its roof, video footage showed.