After warning occupants to leave, an Israeli airstrike flattened a tower in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other media outlets on Saturday afternoon.
The Al Jala building hid “military assets” used by the intelligence wing of the Strip’s Hamas rulers, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement after the strike.
The IDF accused Hamas of “hiding behind” the offices of the press outlets in the tower and “using them as human shields.”
“The Hamas terror group intentionally locates its military assets in the hearts of civil populations in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said.
AP, which confirmed it was warned by the IDF that the building would be destroyed, said it was “shocked and horrified” by the destruction of the building.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the US had “communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility.”
Video shows AP, AJ and other journalists gathering their equipments and gear to evacuate their offices in the 12-story al-Jala’ residential building in the heart of Gaza before bombed and destroyed it to the ground by missiles fired from its warplanes today. #Gaza #غزة_الآن pic.twitter.com/jCtctH0O4R
— Ali Younes (@Ali_reports) May 15, 2021
The military also noted it warned those in the building before the strike and says it gave them sufficient time to clear out.
“Prior to the strike, the IDF warned the civilians in the building and gave them sufficient time to evacuate the building,” the military said. The warnings included so-called roof-knock drone strikes that do not cause serious damage, and calls to the occupants.
The explosions shook the area as the 12-story building was brought down.
#VIDEO Al Jazeera broadcast footage showing the building collapsing to the ground after the Israeli air strike, sending up a huge mushroom cloud of dust and debrishttps://t.co/2czISM0AkC pic.twitter.com/X5CuNpl5I5
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) May 15, 2021
In response to the destruction of the tower, Abu Obeida, the spokesman of Hamas’s military wing, threatened to target central Israel, saying that “residents of Tel Aviv and the center must be on standby.”
Gary Pruitt, the president and CEO of the Associated Press, released a statement on Israel’s leveling of the building, saying the news service was “shocked and horrified” by the destruction of the building.
“[Israel has] long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit,” the statement read.
“The Israeli government says the building contained Hamas military intelligence assets. We have called on the Israeli government to put forward the evidence. AP’s bureau has been in this building for 15 years. We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building. This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk,” said Pruitt.
Pruitt said that they managed to evacuate all the AP staff in time.
“This is an incredibly disturbing development,” said Pruitt. “We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time. The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
Walid al-Omari, Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau chief, said Israel had decided “not only to sow destruction and killing, but also to silence those who broadcast it.”
The strike came shortly after massive rocket barrages were fired by terrorists in the Gaza Strip toward central Israel. In Ramat Gan, a 50-year-old man was killed when a rocket struck near his home.
Gaza terror groups said the rocket barrages at central Israel came in response to an apparent IDF strike overnight on a three-story building in the Shati refugee camp in the Palestinian enclave. Palestinians said 10 members of one family were killed in the strike, most of them children.
The IDF said the details of the strike were under review, however the prime minister’s Arab-language spokesman tweeted that Hamas was to blame for the deaths.
“Hamas targets civilians deliberately. It fired up till now 2300+ rockets at Israeli cities, aiming to kill thousands of Israelis. At the same time, it hides behind Palestinian civilians and used them as human shields,” Ofir Gendelman tweeted. “That’s a double war crime.”
Israel has struck hundreds of buildings in the Gaza Strip, including several high-rises in response to the rocket attacks since Monday. The military maintains that the targets it struck are all assets of Hamas or other terror groups.
Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over 2,300 rockets toward Israel since the outbreak of fighting on Monday, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Ten Israelis, including a young child, have been killed in the rocket fire, and hundreds have been injured.
In Gaza, the toll from the fighting climbed to 139 on Saturday, including dozens of children, with over 1,000 wounded, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
The Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher and that dozens of those killed were terrorists. In addition, the IDF says some deaths were caused by errant rockets fired at Israel which fell short of their targets and landed in the Strip.