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Media: Explain Destruction of Offices  05/16 10:03

   

   NEW YORK (AP) -- News organizations demanded an explanation Saturday for an 
Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the 
offices of The Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets.

   AP journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated from the 12-story 
al-Jalaa tower after the Israeli military warned of an imminent strike. Three 
heavy missiles hit the building within the hour, disrupting coverage of the 
ongoing conflict between' Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel. At least 145 people 
in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the fighting erupted on 
Monday night.

   "The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what 
happened today," AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said. He said the American 
news agency was seeking information from the Israeli government and engaging 
with the U.S. State Department to learn more.

   Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al-Jazeera Media Network, called 
the strike a "war crime" and a "clear act" to stop journalists from reporting 
on the conflict. Kuwait state television also had office space in the 
now-collapsed Gaza City building.

   "The targeting of news organizations is completely unacceptable, even during 
an armed conflict. It represents a gross violation of human rights and 
internationally agreed norms," Barbara Trionfi, the executive director of the 
International Press Institute, said.

   In a standard Israeli response, the military said that Hamas was operating 
inside the building, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as 
human shields. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.

   Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus claimed that Hamas 
used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development. 
He alleged "a highly advanced technological tool" that the militant group used 
in the fighting was "within or on the building."

   But Conricus said he could not provide evidence to back up the claims 
without "compromising" intelligence efforts. He added, however: "I think it's a 
legitimate request to see more information, and I will try to provide it."

   Pruitt, the AP's CEO, said the news agency had been in the building for 15 
years and "we have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the 
building."

   "We have called on the Israeli government to put forward the evidence," he 
said. "This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would 
never knowingly put our journalists at risk."

   Some press freedom advocates said the strike raised suspicions that Israel 
was trying to hinder coverage of the conflict. The New York-based Committee to 
Protect Journalists demanded Israel "provide a detailed and documented 
justification" for the strike.

   "This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house 
international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is 
deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the 
human suffering in Gaza," the group's executive director, Joel Simon, said in a 
statement.

   The Washington-based National Press Club called the strike "part of a 
pattern this week of Israeli forces destroying buildings in Gaza that house 
media organizations" and also questioned whether the assaults seek to "impair 
independent and accurate coverage of the conflict."

   "We call upon Israeli authorities to halt strikes on facilities known to 
house press," the National Press Club said. "Reliable media organizations are 
the best sources of accurate information about events in Gaza, and they must 
not be prevented from doing their vital job."

   The bombing followed media consternation over an Israeli military statement 
that prompted some news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, to 
erroneously report early Friday that Israel had launched a ground invasion of 
Gaza.

   Israeli military commentators said the media had been used in a ruse to lure 
Hamas militants into a deadly trap. Conricus denied that the military engaged 
in a deliberate deception when it tweeted falsely Friday that ground forces 
were engaging in Gaza, calling it "an honest mistake."

   The AP, based on its analysis of the army's statement, phone calls to 
military officials and on the ground reporting in Gaza, concluded there was no 
ground incursion and did not report there was one.

   The strike on a building known to have the offices of international media 
outlets came as a shock to reporters who had felt relatively protected there.

   "Now, one can understand the feeling of the people whose homes have been 
destroyed by such kind of air attacks," Al-Jazeera producer Safwat al-Kahlout, 
who was at the bureau in Gaza when the evacuation warning came, told the 
broadcaster Saturday. "It's really difficult to wake up one day and then you 
realize that your office is not there with all the career experiences, memories 
that you've had."

   AP's top floor offices and roof terrace on the now-destroyed building had 
provided a prime location for covering fighting in Gaza. The news agency's 
camera offered 24-hour live shots this week as Hamas rockets arched toward 
Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city.

   Just a day before the bombing, AP correspondent Fares Akram wrote in a 
personal story that the AP office was the only place in Gaza were he felt 
"somewhat safe."

   "The Israeli military has the coordinates of the high-rise, so it's less 
likely a bomb will bring it crashing down," Akram wrote.

   The next day, Akram tweeted about running from the building and watching its 
destruction from afar.

   The New York Times joined other news organizations in expressing alarm about 
the targeting of al-Jalaa tower.

   "The ability of the press to report on the ground is a profoundly important 
issue that has an impact on everyone." the newspaper's vice president of 
communications, Danielle Rhoades Ha, said. "A free and independent press is 
essential to helping to inform people, bridge differences and end the conflict."

 
 
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