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 on Saturday, the latest step by the military to silence reporting from the territory amid its battle with Hamas.
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.
In a phone call with the officer, AFP heard him beg for an extra 10 minutes to allow journalists to retrieve their equipment before leaving.
“Give us ten extra minutes,” he urged, but the officer on the other end of the line refused.
Wael al-Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza told AFP: “It’s terrible, very sad, to target the Al Jazeera and other press bureaus.”
Video footage broadcast by Al Jazeera showed the moment the 13-storey building collapsed after the strike as plumes of dark smoke rose in the sky.
“The tower has come down,” the anchorwoman said in the video. “Whenever you see journalists doing live updates from Gaza, they’re usually standing on the roof of that building which has now been flattened by an air strike by the Israeli military,” she added.
“This channel will not be silenced. Al Jazeera will not be silenced,” the on-air anchorwoman said, her voice thick with emotion. “We can guarantee you that right now.”
In a statement, Israel alleged 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 contained a number of apartments and other offices.
Strike at refugee camp
The strike came hours after another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp in Gaza City killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, in the deadliest single strike of the current violence.
Mohammed Hadidi told reporters his wife and five children had gone to celebrate the Eidul Fitr holiday with relatives. She and three of the children, aged six to 14, were killed, while an 11-year-old is missing. Only his five-month-old son Omar is known to have survived.
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 neighbour living in the same building. “You filmed people eating and then you bombed them?” he said, addressing Israel. “Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”
Israeli planes renewed air strikes in Gaza early on Saturday and Hamas fighters responded by firing rockets into Israel as the fighting entered a fifth night and US and Arab diplomats sought an end to the violence.
At least 132 people have been killed in Gaza since Monday, including 32 children and 21 women, and 950 others wounded, Palestinian medical officials said.
Among the eight dead in Israel were a soldier patrolling the Gaza border and six civilians, including two children, Israeli authorities said.
Israel launched day-long attacks on Friday to destroy what it claimed were several kilometres of tunnels, launch sites and weapons manufacturing warehouses used by Hamas’ fighters in an effort to halt the rocket attacks.