The Associated Press said on Saturday it was “shocked and horrified” by an Israeli airstrike that destroyed a building housing the US news agency’s Gaza bureau and those of other international news media.
“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement about the attack on the building, which also housed Qatar-based Al Jazeera.
Earlier on Saturday, an Israeli air strike destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press, Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye and other media outlets — the latest step by the military to silence reporting from the territory.
Jawad Mehdi, the owner of the Jala Tower, said an Israeli intelligence officer warned him he had just one hour to ensure the evacuation of the building.
A dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building but were able to evacuate, Pruitt said.
The White House, which has kept a relatively low profile on the violence, said on Saturday it has cautioned Israel about the importance of protecting independent media.
“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
Israeli defence officials said the building housed not only news bureaus but offices of Hamas fighters.
AFP journalists watched the building collapse after the air strike, sending up a huge cloud of dust and debris.
Al Jazeera television was among the tenants of the building.
Walid al-Omari, that news agency’s Jerusalem bureau chief, vowed the network will not be silenced.
“Clearly there is a decision not only to sow destruction and killing, but also to silence those who broadcast it,” he told AFP, adding in an on-air interview shortly afterward that “this is impossible”.
Pruitt, in his statement, said, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.“
In a statement, Al Jazeera said it “condemned in the strongest terms” the destruction of its offices by the Israeli military in Gaza.
The organisation said it viewed the air strike as a “clear act to stop journalist[s] from conducting their sacred duty to inform the world and report events on the ground” and vowed to use every means to hold the Israeli government to account.
Al Jazeera called on other media organisations as well human rights organisations to join in denouncing the “ruthless bombing” and ensure that the Israeli government was held responsible for its actions.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director Dr Mostefa Souag said.
The destruction of the media offices was a “blatant violation of human rights and is internationally considered a war crime”, he further said.
“Journalism is not a crime,” the statement concluded.