Israel/Gaza: High-Rise Containing Media Groups Destroyed as Netanyahu Promises Continued Strikes

On Saturday the 15th of May, Israel launched further airstrikes against the Gaza Strip, a major escalation of ongoing violence that killed a family of 10 in a refugee camp, bombed the home of a senior Hamas leader, and destroyed a high-rise building containing The Associated Press and other media organizations. The violence appears set to continue unabated, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised ongoing strikes.

In a televised statement, Netanyahu claimed that the high-rise building contained Hamas military intelligence, but Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt contests this claim. “We have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building,” Pruitt said in a statement. “This is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.” The Associated Press had operated out of the building for 15 years without ever being targeted, despite three separate wars between Israel and Hamas. In fact, cameras positioned on the top floor office and roof terrace have historically offered 24-hour live shots of missile strikes from Hamas as well as footage of Israeli airstrikes, allowing international audiences to witness the ongoing violence firsthand. Pruitt believes the building’s destruction will deprive the wider world of information regarding the conflict. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today,” Pruitt said. “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.” Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al-Jazeera Media Network – also based in the building – went one step further. Souag called Saturday’s attack a “war crime” aiming to “silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza.” At the time of writing, no evidence has been produced to support Israeli claims.

The most recent outbreak of violence appears to be the result of nearly a month of tension. Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police began on the 13th of April after barriers were placed outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. These barriers prevented Palestinians from gathering after prayers at the Old City’s al-Asqa Mosque on the first night of Ramadan. Rocket attacks from Gaza soon followed and Arab/Israeli tensions flared throughout the region. On the 23rd of April, Israeli ultranationalists marched on the Damascus Gate chanting “Death to Arabs”, one of many instances of anti-Arab sentiment which spiked in the wake of these events. Heavy-handed Israeli police action at al-Asqa Mosque on the 7th and 8th of May against Palestinian worshippers saw over 200 people injured, further inflaming the situation. On the 10th of May, after more clashes with police and an annual Jerusalem Day march which was initially intended to pass through predominantly Arab parts of the Old City (rerouted at the last minute), Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel to “withdraw its soldiers… from the blessed al-Asqa mosque and Sheikh Jarrah” by 6pm that evening. When that deadline passed without any response, rockets were fired toward Jerusalem for the first time in years. Israel immediately responded with airstrikes.

Saturday’s most recent military action comes after five days of violence which have seen casualties mounting on both sides. Since Monday, Hamas have fired over 2,000 rockets, but most have been intercepted by defense systems or fallen short of their targets. Israel’s response has been the use of warplanes and artillery to strike hundreds of targets around the blockaded Gaza Strip, home to some 2 million Palestinians. At the time of writing, at least 145 Palestinians lie dead in Gaza – including 41 children – and eight dead on the Israeli side, including a 5-year-old. Attempts to mediate between the two parties are underway. In fact, the United Nations Security Council is also due to meet on Sunday to discuss ongoing violence. However, the likelihood of successful talks is uncertain. One Egyptian official, who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, noted that Israel had already turned down a proposal for a one-year truce that Hamas leaders had accepted. The official hopes that American intervention could stop the Israeli assault, but with the nation’s strong historic support of Israel it is unknown what may occur. A strong response from the international world is needed. This ongoing destruction is unacceptable, and casualties will only continue to mount. How many more have to die before the world steps in?