A building that housed international media offices including Al Jazeera’s in the Gaza Strip has been hit by an Israeli air raid that demolished the structure.
It was not immediately clear if there were casualties in Saturday’s attack. Live Al Jazeera video showed the 11-storey al-Jalaa building, which also houses several residences and other offices, crashing to the ground after being bombed as dust and debris flew into the air.
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The building also housed The Associated Press news agency bureau.
A statement from Al Jazeera condemned the attack, calling on “all media and human right institutions to join forces” in denouncing the bombing and to “hold the government of Israel accountable”.
“Al Jazeera condemns in the strongest terms the bombing and destruction of its offices by the Israeli military in Gaza and views this as a clear act to stop journalists from conducting their sacred duty to inform the world and report events on the ground,” the statement read.
“Al Jazeera promises to pursue every available route to hold the Israeli government responsible for its actions.”
Meanwhile, the AP said on Saturday it was “shocked and horrified” by the Israeli air attack.
AP VIDEO: Associated Press staff evacuated their office in Gaza City shortly before the building was destroyed in an Israel airstrike. https://t.co/Ib5T2SohXq
— The Associated Press (@AP) May 15, 2021
“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said.
Israel said its “fighter jets attacked a high-rise building which hosted military assets belonging to the military intelligence of the Hamas terror organisation”.
“The building also hosted offices of civilian media outlets, which the Hamas terror group hides behind and uses as human shields,” it said. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.
“I have been working in this office for more than 10 years and I have never seen anything [suspicious],” Al Jazeera’s Safwat al-Kahlout, reporting from Gaza City, said.
“I even asked my colleagues if they’ve seen anything suspicious and they all confirmed to me that they have never seen any military aspects or the fighters even coming in and out,” he added.
Pruitt also told Al Jazeera: “I can tell you that we’ve been in that building for about 15 years for our bureau. We certainly had no sense that Hamas was there.”
Al Jazeera’s Al-Kahlout said a resident of the building received a call from the Israeli army warning of the impending attack about an hour before it was hit.
Al-Kahlout, who was in the building at the time, said he and colleagues “started to collect as much as they could, from the personal and equipment of the office, especially the cameras”.
Then al-Kahlout, who said he had worked at the building for 11 years and often reported live from its roof, watched at least three missiles hit the building and its subsequent collapse.
“I have been covering lots of events from this building,” he said. “We have lots of good memories with our colleagues.”
Scores of structures have been demolished, sometimes after a warning phone call or missile “tap”, by Israeli attacks in the Palestinian enclave.
The 11-storey residential building called Al-Jalaa has now collapsed. pic.twitter.com/VUFxxJCuW3
— Arwa Ibrahim (@arwaib) May 15, 2021
“Now, one can understand the feeling of the people whose homes have been destroyed by such kind of air attacks,” al-Kahlout said. “It’s really difficult to wake up one day and then you realise that your office is not there with all the career experiences, memories that you’ve had.”
Reacting to the news of the attack, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration had told the Israelis that the safety and security of journalists was “a paramount responsibility”.
We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility.
— Jen Psaki (@PressSec) May 15, 2021
At least 140 people have been killed in Gaza, including 39 children and 22 women, since the Israeli bombardment began on Monday.
In Israel, at least nine people have been killed in rocket attacks from armed groups in Gaza.
Early on Saturday, an air attack hit a three-storey house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp, killing eight children and two women from an extended family.