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Israeli strike destroys media housed building

Written by The Frontier Post

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP): An Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and de-stroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. AP’s president said the agency was “shocked and horrified” at the strike.

AP staffers and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent within an hour. Three heavy missiles struck the 12-story building, collapsing it in a giant cloud of dust.

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 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.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. “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.”

“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 engaged with the U.S. State Department to learn more.

The building also housed the offices of Qatari-run Al-Jazeera TV, as well as residential apartments. The Israeli military said it targeted the building because it contained assets of Hamas intelligence agencies, which it said were using media offices as “human shields.” It did not provide evidence for the claims.

Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestin-ians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current conflict.

A video broadcast by Al-Jazeera showed the high-rise building’s owner, Jawwad Mahdi, pleading over the phone with an Israeli intelligence officer for permission to wait 10 minutes so journalists could to go inside the building to retrieve valuable equipment before it was 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.”

The officer on the other end of the phone rejected the request, at which point Mahdi says: “You have destroyed our life’s work, memories, life. I will hang up. Do what you want. There is a God.”

Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes. In Gaza, at least 139 people have been killed, including 39 children and 22 women; in Israel, eight people have been killed, including a man killed by a rocket that hit in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv, on Saturday.

The latest outburst of violence started in Jerusalem and spread across the region over the past week, with Jewish-Arab clashes and rioting in mixed cities of Israel. There were also widespread Palestinian protests Friday in the occupied West Bank, where Israeli forces shot and killed 11 people.

The spiraling violence has raised fears of a new Palestinian “intifada,” or uprising, when peace talks have not taken place in years. Palestinians on Saturday were marking Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, when they commemorate the estimated 700,000 people who were expelled from or fled their homes in what was now Israel during the 1948 war surrounding its creation. That raised the possibility of even more unrest.

U.S. diplomat Hady Amr arrived Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict, and the U.N. Security Council was set to meet Sunday. But Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

The strike on the building housing media offices came in the afternoon, after the owner received a call from the Israeli military warning that the building would be hit. 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 says. “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.”

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,” an on-air anchorwoman from Al-Jazeera English said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”

The bombardment earlier Saturday struck a three-story house in Gaza City’s Shati refugee camp, killing eight children aged 14 and under and two women from an extended family.

Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday with her brother’s wife and three of their children. All were killed instantly, he said, except the olnly kno-wn survivor, his 5-month-old son Omar. Another son, 11-year-old Yahya, was missing. Children’s toys and a Monopoly board game could be seen among the rubble, as well as plates of uneaten food from the holiday gathering.

“There was no warning,” said Jamal Al-Naji, a neighbor living in the same bui-lding. “You filmed people eating and then you bom-bed them?” he said, addres-sing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and co-nfront the strong people!”

An AP statement said all employees and freelancers safely evacuated the building. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said the company is looking to the Israeli government for answers.

“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. “They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. …

“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.”

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The Frontier Post

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