The pre-dawn raid on the building, in which Aljazeera and the BBC's Gaza offices are located, targeted the al-Jil press office. Mustafa Sawwaf, a freelance reporter who owns and manages the office, says this is just one of a series of Israeli attempts to silence the Palestinian media.

"I read this as a clear Israeli bankruptcy in tactics ... there are no more targets that they can think of shelling, so they target the media," said Sawwaf, who works for BBC Arabic Radio, the Dubai-based MBC FM, and Islamonline.com.

"This is one of the means of silencing the Palestinian media, because we believe our coverage has affected the Israeli public image the world over.

"We have had some success in exposing Israeli scandals and brutality in raids of Palestinian towns."

In an interview with Aljazeera.net, BBC Middle East bureau chief Andrew Steele defended Sawwaf and strongly condemned the Israeli attacks against his office.

"[Sawwaf] is one of the best known journalists in Gaza," said Steele speaking from Jerusalem.
 
"I condemn the idea of the attacks completely - it's completely reckless to target a building which is well known to house the offices of so many media organisations."

Indiscriminate attack

Journalists working in the building are indignant about the indiscriminate nature of the Israeli attack, and worried that they could be next.

"Why did they target his office?" said LBC/al-Hayat correspondent Taghrid al-Khudari, whose office is located one floor above that of Sawwaf's.

"Are they against objectivity? I feel worried as an objective reporter. I want Israel to explain why they are targeting a reporter and clarify their definition of who a 'wanted journalist' is."

"The office was a
location for incitement. This is the fate of any media outlet that engages in such acts"

Eitan Arusy, Israeli army spokesperson

Israeli army spokesperson Eitan Arusy said the office was attacked because "it incited violence".

"They broadcast images of Palestinian attacks against Israeli targets. The office was a location for incitement. This is the fate of any media outlet that engages in such acts," he said.

Arusy dodged questions about its indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian journalists, many of whom have work-related contacts with Hamas.

"As an objective reporter, I'm obligated to cover the viewpoint of Hamas and all other political factions because they represent a big segment of the Palestinian street," said Khudary.

"Now what they're telling me is that just because as a reporter I have contacts with Hamas, then I'm a target"

Harassment

Another Palestinian journalist who spoke to Aljazeera.net on the condition of anonymity said it is irrelevant whether or not the individual is a journalist as far as the Israeli army is concerned.

Journalists have to make contact
with all political organisations

"They classify Palestinians into two categories: terrorists who should be annihilated, or collaborators, nothing in between. Israel does not recognise Palestinian journalists as journalists," he said.

The Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) has criticised Israel in the past for abusing and harassing Palestinian and foreign journalists, while at the same time respecting its own Jewish-based media.

Many journalists have been roughed up, threatened, arrested, banned from moving around, targeted by gunfire, wounded or injured, had their press cards withdrawn or been deported, according to the group.

Insufficient precautions

Just last week, RSF protested against a string of violent attacks by the Israeli army against Palestinian journalists in the West Bank town of Nablus.

"It is evident that during operations, the Israeli army systematically obstructs the work of Palestinian journalists.

Records show almost 60 cases
of journalists shot while working

"They are also heedless of their safety, taking insufficient precautions to avoid injuring these civilians, who have to be there in order to report on the situation," said the group in a letter they wrote to Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz.

In a previous letter of protest, RSF called for an "impartial, swift and rigorous" investigation into the shooting of Agence France-Presse photographer Mahmud Hams, 25, who was wounded on 5 May in the central Gaza Strip town of Dair al-Balah. The organisation has so far received no response.
 
The group said it has recorded at least 58 incidents since September 2000 in which journalists have been shot and wounded while covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Israeli snipers were to blame.

"The Israeli army does not take the presence of journalists on the ground sufficiently seriously and fails to do its utmost to protect them.

"Instructions given to soldiers in the field lack clarity. No steps have been taken following numerous incidents involving the army and journalists," concluded the group in its annual report.

At least 10 journalists have been killed by Israeli troops since the start of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in late August 2000, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Information.