The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike Saturday, May 15, 2021. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media in Gaza City collapses after it was hit by an Israeli airstrike Saturday, May 15, 2021. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

‘Shocking and horrifying’: Israel airstrike destroys AP office in Gaza

12 staffers and freelancers were working and resting in the bureau on Saturday afternoon when the military telephoned in a warning

An Israeli airstrike on Saturday destroyed a high-rise building that housed The Associated Press office in the Gaza Strip, despite repeated urgent calls from the news agency to the military to halt the impending attack. AP called the strike “shocking and horrifying.”

Twelve AP staffers and freelancers were working and resting in the bureau on Saturday afternoon when the Israeli military telephoned a warning, giving occupants of the building one hour to evacuate. Everyone was able to get out, grabbing a few belongings, before three heavy missiles struck the 12-story building, collapsing it into a giant cloud of dust.

Although no one was hurt, the airstrike demolished an office that was like a second home for AP journalists and marked a new chapter in the already rocky relationship between the Israeli military and the international media. Press-freedom groups condemned the attack. They accused the military, which claimed the building housed Hamas military intelligence, of trying to censor coverage of Israel’s relentless offensive against Hamas militants.

Ahead of the demolition, the AP placed urgent calls to the Israeli military, foreign minister and prime minister’s office but were either ignored or told that there was nothing to be done.

For 15 years, the AP’s top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009, 2012 and 2014. The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.

“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,” Gary Pruitt, the AP’s president and chief executive, said in a statement. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” he said, adding that the AP was seeking information from the Israeli government and was in touch with the U.S. State Department.

The building housed a number of offices, including those of the Arab satellite channel Al-Jazeera. Dozens of residents who lived in apartments on the upper floors were displaced.

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.”

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.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, refused to provide evidence backing up the army’s claims, saying it would compromise intelligence efforts. “I think it’s a legitimate request to see more information, and I will try to provide it,” he said.

Conricus said the army is “committed both to journalists, their safety and to their free work.”

For AP journalists, it was a difficult moment. Most of the AP staff has been sleeping in the bureau, which includes four bedrooms in an upstairs apartment, throughout the current round of fighting, believing that the offices of an international news agency were one of the few safe places in Gaza. In a territory crippled by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, it was equipped with a generator that offered the rare comforts of electricity, air conditioning and running water.

AP correspondent Fares Akram said he was resting in an upstairs room when he heard panicked screams from colleagues about the evacuation order. Staffers hastily gathered basic equipment, including laptops and cameras before fleeing downstairs.

“I am heartbroken,” Akram said. “You feel like you are at home. Above all, you have your memories, your friends. You spend most of your time there.”

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,” Halla Mohieddeen. on-air anchorperson for Al-Jazeera English said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

Later in the day, President Joe Biden spoke to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the spiraling violence.

“He raised concerns about the safety and security of journalists and reinforced the need to ensure their protection,” the White House said.

The Foreign Press Association, which represents some 400 journalists working for international media organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories, expressed its “grave concern and dismay” over the attack.

“Knowingly causing the destruction of the offices of some of the world’s largest and most influential news organizations raises deeply worrying questions about Israel’s willingness to interfere with the freedom of the press,” it said. “The safety of other news bureaus in Gaza is now in question.”

Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the attack raises concerns that Israel is targeting the media “to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.” He demanded “detailed and documented justification” for the attack.

The International Press Institute, a global network of journalists and media executives, condemned the attack as a “gross violation of human rights and internationally agreed norms.”

The Israeli military has long had rocky relations with the foreign media, accusing international journalists of being biased against it.

The attack came a day after the Israeli military had fed vague — and in some cases erroneous — information to the media about a possible ground incursion into Gaza. It turned out that there was no ground invasion, and the statement was part of an elaborate ruse aimed at tricking Hamas militants into defensive underground positions that were then destroyed in Israeli airstrikes.

International journalists have accused the army of duping them and turning them into accessories for a military operation. The army said the error was an honest mistake.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Israel

Just Posted

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives at the 2021 budget in Edmonton on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta launches COVID vaccine lottery with million-dollar prizes to encourage uptake

The premier says the lottery will offer three prizes worth $1 million a piece, as well as other prizes

The City of Red Deer sits at 249 active cases of the virus, after hitting a peak of 565 active cases on Feb. 22. (Black Press file image)
Red Deer down to 119 active COVID-19 cases

Province identifies 179 new cases Saturday

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported five additional deaths Wednesday due to COVID-19. (File photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Red Deer at 169 active cases of COVID-19

Province set to move into Stage 2 of reopening Thursday

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Flowers and cards are left at a makeshift memorial at a monument outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School to honour the 215 children whose remains are believed to have been discovered buried near the city in Kamloops, B.C., on Monday, May 31, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Pick a Sunday:’ Indigenous leaders ask Catholics to stay home, push for apology

Indigenous leaders are calling on Catholics to stand in solidarity with residential school survivors by not attending church services

“They will never be forgotten, every child matters,” says Sioux Valley Chief Jennifer Bone in a video statement June 1. (Screen grab)
104 ‘potential graves’ detected at site of former residential school in Manitoba

Sioux Valley Dakota Nation working to identify, repatriate students buried near former Brandon residential school

Denmark’s Christian Eriksen receives medical attention after collapsing during the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Saturday, June 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, Pool)
Christian Eriksen in stable condition, Euro 2020 match resumes

Eriksen was given chest compressions after collapsing on the field during a European Championship

As stories of the horrors of residential schools circulate after the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation announced it had located what are believed to be the remains of 215 children, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said he feels a connection with the former students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
2 sides of the same coin: Ex-foster kids identify with residential school survivors

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip says the child welfare system takes Indigenous children from their families

Airport ground crew offload a plane carrying just under 300,000 doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine which is developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies at Pearson International Airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, April 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
1st batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines won’t be released in Canada over quality concerns

The vaccines were quarantined in April before they were distributed to provinces

Most Read