The Israel Defense Forces said the building contained “Hamas military intelligence assets”. The IDF accused Hamas of treating journalists as “human shields”.
But the recoil was quick. “We are requesting a detailed and documented justification from the Israeli government for this military attack on a civilian facility in view of the possible violation of international humanitarian law,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, hours after the Al Jala’s building strike .
And the Foreign Press Association in Israel, a nonprofit that represents hundreds of journalists, expressed “great concern and dismay” at the direction of the building.
“The knowledgeable 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 press freedom,” the association said. “The safety of other news outlets in Gaza is now in question.”
The association requested an immediate meeting with Israeli officials.
The IDF shared its justification in statements and on social media following the explosion. “After giving civilians advance warning and time to evacuate, IDF fighter jets struck a multi-story building containing Hamas military intelligence,” the IDF said on Twitter. “The building contained civilian media offices behind which Hamas is hiding and which it deliberately uses as human shields.”
The Defense Forces also said in a statement that the building houses a Hamas research and development unit that operates technological equipment against Israel, “a unique asset for the Hamas terrorist organization.”
Al Jazeera, the Qatari network with offices around the world, was not happy with any of the explanations. Mostefa Souag, acting general director of the Al Jazeera Media Network, called it “an obvious violation of human rights and is internationally viewed as a war crime”.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and hide the immeasurable slaughter and suffering of the people of Gaza,” Souag said in a statement. Israeli officials cited the bombing as an attempt to silence Hamas, not the media.
No one was reported killed in the attack, but it was a close call, the U.S.-based Associated Press said.
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” said Gary Pruitt, CEO of AP. “A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were in the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in good time.”
Pruitt said the AP was “shocked and appalled” by the attack and concluded by saying, “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because it happened today.”
Fares Akram, an AP correspondent in Gaza, wrote on Twitter about walking down the stairs “from the 11th floor” during the evacuation. He said he and his colleagues “made our best memories” from the office.
The IDF cited “clear international law” and said Saturday that “if Hamas uses a tall building for military purposes, it becomes a legitimate military target”.
But his sterile words may not match the emotional and visceral responses to the videos of the collapsing building, shown live on Al Jazeera and broadcast widely on social media on Saturday.
Officials in the US moved quickly to express their support for freedom of the press.
“We have told Israelis directly that keeping journalists and independent media safe is a priority,” said Jen Psaki, White House press secretary.
Later that day, Pruitt said, “The Israeli government says the building contained Hamas military intelligence assets. We asked the Israeli government to produce the evidence. The AP office has been in this building for 15 years. We had no reference to it Hamas. ” was in the building or active in the building. This is something that we are actively reviewing to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly endanger our journalists. ”
The AP’s story of the bombing suggested that the burden of proof was on Israel. Regarding the justification of the Israeli military for using journalists as human shields, history noted that Israel “did not provide any evidence to support the claim”.
The story added, “It was also not clear why the military demolished an entire building with media offices and apartments. The military carried out numerous pinpoint air strikes, including in the current combat round, that targeted individual floors and even individual apartments.”