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

Chilliwack potter Cathy Terepocki (left) and Indigenous enhancement teachers Val Tosoff (striped top) and Christine Seymour (fuchsia coat), along with students at Vedder middle school, look at some of the 500-plus pinch pots on Thursday, June 10 made by the kids to honour the 215 children found at Kamloops Indian Residential School. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack students make hundreds of tiny clay pots in honour of 215 Indigenous children

‘I think the healing process has begun,’ says teacher about Vedder middle school project

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Webinar looks at sexual abuse prevention among adolescents

Vancouver/Fraser Valley CoSA hosts free online session on June 15

Emergency services were on the scene of an apparent stabbing Friday afternoon (June 11) in the 2400 block of Countess Street in Abbotsford. (Photo: Kaytlin Harrison)
Two suspects arrested after apparent stabbing in Abbotsford

Incident occurs Friday afternoon in 2400 block of Countess Street

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month in Canada. (ADOBE STOCK IMAGE)
Shining a light on brain injury in Canada

June is Brain Injury Awareness Month

submitted
City of Mission hosting a virtual and in-person open house to explore Silverdale plan

It’s the first neighbourhood planning area of the larger Silverdale Comprehensive Planning Area

At an outdoor drive-in convocation ceremony, Mount Royal University bestows an honorary Doctor of Laws on Blackfoot Elder and residential school survivor Clarence Wolfleg in Calgary on Tuesday, June 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
‘You didn’t get the best of me’: Residential school survivor gets honorary doctorate

Clarence Wolfleg receives honorary doctorate from Mount Royal University, the highest honour the school gives out

“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

The Queen Victoria statue at the B.C. legislature was splattered with what looks like red paint on Friday. (Nicole Crescenzi/News Staff)
Queen Victoria statue at B.C. legislature vandalized Friday

Statue splattered with red paint by old growth forest proponents

Police cars are seen parked outside Vancouver Police Department headquarters on Saturday, January 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver police officer charged with assault during an arrest in 2019

The service has released no other details about the allegations

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

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps off Vancouver Island

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

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

Nathan Watts, a member of the Tseshaht First Nation near Port Alberni, shares his story of substance use, a perspective he said isn’t seen enough. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Watts)
Public shaming, hate perpetuates further substance use: UVic researcher

Longtime addict Nathan Watts offers a user’s perspective on substance use

Most Read