Israeli airstrike destroys building housing international media offices in Gaza

Israel slammed the Gaza Strip with airstrikes on Saturday, in a dramatic escalation that included bombing the home of a senior Hamas leader, the death of 10 people in a refugee camp and pulverizing a highrise that housed The Associated Press and other media.

Air raid on refugee camp kills 10 Palestinians; Hamas rocket kills Israeli man as violence escalates

Israeli airstrike destroys office building housing media organizations

CBC News

1 month ago
An Israeli airstrike levelled a highrise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. There were residential units inside as well. The Israel Defence Forces says civilians were warned to evacuate the building ahead of the strike. 4:04

The latest:

  • Israel targets home of senior figure in Hamas leadership.
  • Gaza highrise hit by airstrike housed offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera.
  • Human Rights Watch, journalists' group demand answers after airstrike.
  • Separate air raid hits building inside Gaza refugee camp, leaving at least 10 dead.
  • Demonstrations held across Canada amid escalating conflict.
  • Canadians with loved ones in Gaza, Israel watch with heartbreak as violence unfolds.
  • A look at past confrontations between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

Israel slammed the Gaza Strip with airstrikes on Saturday, in a dramatic escalation that included bombing the home of a senior Hamas leader, the death of 10 people in a refugee camp and pulverizing a highrise that housed The Associated Press and other media.

The Hamas militant group continued a stream of rocket volleys into Israel, including a late-night barrage on Tel Aviv. One man was killed when a rocket hit his home in a suburb of the seaside metropolis.

With a U.S. envoy on the ground, calls increased for a ceasefire after five days of mayhem that have left at least 145 Palestinians dead in Gaza — including 41 children and 23 women — and eight dead on the Israeli side, all but one of them civilians, including a 6-year-old child.

Members of Israeli security and emergency services work on a site hit by a rocket in Ramat Gan, near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on Saturday. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. President Joe Biden, who has called for a de-escalation but has backed Israel's campaign, spoke separately by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Still, Israel stepped up its assault, vowing to shatter the capabilities of Gaza's Hamas rulers.

The week of deadly violence came after weeks of mounting tensions.

On Sunday, the Israeli military said it targeted the home of Gaza's top Hamas leader. Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman, an army spokesperson, told Israel's army radio that the military targeted the home of Yehiyeh Sinwar, the most senior Hamas leader inside the territory, who is likely in hiding. His home is located in town of Khan Younis, in southern Gaza.

Earlier, Israeli warplanes struck several buildings and roads in a vital part of Gaza City. Photos circulated by residents and journalists showed the airstrikes created a crater that blocked one of the main roads leading to Shifa, the largest hospital in the strip. 

The Health Ministry said the latest airstrikes left at least two dead and 25 wounded, including children and women. There has been no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Senior Hamas figure targeted

On Saturday, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a senior figure in Hamas' political branch, saying the building served as part of the group's "terrorist infrastructure."

There was no immediate report on al-Hayeh's fate or on any casualties.

The bombing of al-Hayeh's home showed Israel was expanding its campaign beyond just the group's military commanders.

Israel says it has killed dozens in Hamas' military branch, including senior commanders and fighters in the field, though Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad have only acknowledged 20 dead members.

Streaks of light are seen from Ashkelon as Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip toward Israel, in the early hours of Saturday. (Amir Cohen/Reuters)

Since the conflict began, Israel has levelled a number of Gaza City's tallest office and residential buildings, alleging they house elements of the Hamas military infrastructure.

On Saturday, it turned to the 12-storey al-Jalaa Building, where the offices of The Associated Press (AP), the TV network Al Jazeera and other media outlets are located, along with several floors of apartments.

Building with media offices hit

"The campaign will continue as long as it is required," Netanyahu said in a televised speech on Saturday evening. He alleged that Hamas military intelligence was operating inside the building

Israel routinely cites a Hamas presence as a reason for targeting certain locations in airstrikes, including residential buildings. The military also has accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields, but provided no evidence to back up the claims.

The AP has operated from the building for 15 years, including through three previous wars between Israel and Hamas, without being targeted directly. During those conflicts as well as the current one, the news agency's cameras from its top floor office and roof terrace offered 24-hour live shots as militants' rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surroundings.

A 12-storey building in Gaza that housed the local offices of The Associated Press and Al Jazeera was destroyed in an airstrike on Saturday. The Israeli military said it targeted the building because it contained assets of Hamas intelligence agencies. (Ashraf Abu Amrah/Reuters)

On Saturday afternoon, the Israeli military called the building's owner and warned a strike would come within an hour. AP staffers and other occupants evacuated safely .

Soon after, three missiles hit the building and destroyed it, bringing it crashing down in a giant cloud of dust.

"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.

A mosque is visible through the smoke during Israeli missile strikes in Gaza City on Saturday. (Mohammed Salem/Reuters)

Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a "war crime" aiming to "silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza."

Later in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that the U.S. had "communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility."

In the early hours Saturday, another airstrike hit an apartment building in Gaza City's densely populated Shati refugee camp, killing two women and eight children.

A member of the Israeli security forces gathers shrapnel Saturday on the outskirts of Lod, Israel, where both Jews and Israeli-Arabs live, after a rocket was fired from the Gaza Strip. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images)

Mohammed Hadidi told reporters that his wife and her brother's wife had gathered at the house with their children to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr holiday ending the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The only survivor was Hadidi's five-month-old son, Omar.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. diplomacy

In his call with Netanyahu, Biden expressed his "strong support" for Israel's campaign but raised concern about civilian casualties and protection of journalists, the White House said.

U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin tweeted Saturday that he had spoken again with Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and reaffirmed Israel's right to defend itself and condemned "Hamas' deliberate targeting of Israeli citizens."

Austin added: "I also expressed my hope that calm can be restored soon."

A Palestinian man sits among the rubble in the Al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza City, on Saturday. Eight children and two women from an extended family were killed in an Israeli airstrike at the camp. (Fatima Shbair/Getty Images)

The bombings took place a day after U.S. diplomat Hady Amr arrived in Israel as part of Washington's efforts to de-escalate the conflict. Israel turned down an Egyptian proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas rulers had accepted, an Egyptian intelligence official said Friday on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations.

Mediators from Egypt, which works closely with Israel on security issues and shares a border with Hamas-ruled Gaza, appeared to be growing alarmed. The intelligence official said Egypt hopes the U.S. intervention could halt the Israeli assault. The United Nations Security Council was set to meet Sunday.

The tensions began in East Jerusalem earlier this month, when Palestinians protested a legal case in which eight Palestinian families face losing their occupied East Jerusalem homes to Jewish settlers. There were also protests against Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque, part of a holy site in Jerusalem's Old City revered by both Muslims and Jews.

Hamas fired rockets toward Jerusalem late Monday, triggering the Israeli assault on Gaza. Since then, Hamas has fired more than 2,000 rockets, though most have either fallen short or been intercepted by anti-missile defences. Israel's warplanes and artillery have struck hundreds of targets around blockaded Gaza, where some two million Palestinians live.

Palestinian refugees take part in a protest in the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, near the border with Israel, on Saturday, as they mark the 73rd anniversary of Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, which is how Palestinians describe Israel's declaration of independence in 1948. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images)

The turmoil has also spilled over elsewhere, fuelling protests in the occupied West Bank and stoking violence within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, with clashes and vigilante attacks on people and property.

Palestinian health officials reported the deaths of two Palestinians by Israeli fire in the West Bank on Saturday. One of the shootings occurred when the army said it thwarted an alleged car ramming.

With files from CBC News