Wednesday, February 21

Israeli airstrikes topple media tower and hit home of Hamas leader

Tensions in Gaza have escalated further after an Israeli bombardment destroyed a high-rise building used by foreign press, followed up by the targeting of the home of one of Hamas’s leaders.

Israel’s airstrike on the 12-storey tower block – an hour after people were told to evacuate the building – came as fighting raged despite international calls for a ceasefire.

The al Jalaa Tower in Gaza City, which houses Al Jazeera and the Associated Press (AP) news agency, among others, was hit twice by an Israeli bombardment at about 1.15pm on Saturday. There were no reports of fatalities and an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was very satisfied that no journalists were hurt.

A spokesperson for the Israeli Defence Forces said: The building contained civilian media offices, which the Hamas terror organization hides behind and uses as human shields. The Hamas terror organisation deliberately places military targets at the heart of densely populated civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.

For 15 years, the AP’s top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel’s conflicts with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014.

The news agency’s camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants’ rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.

AP’s president and CEO Gary Pruitt condemned the strike incredibly disturbing, saying the media outlet was shocked and horrified.

We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life, he said. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time. The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.

Mr Netanyahu has insisted that Israel is doing everything to avoid harming those not involved in the Hamas strikes against his country, including a rocket attack that killed one Israeli near Tel Aviv.

The number of people killed has climbed to at least 145 people in Gaza, including 41 children and 23 women, according to Palestinian health officials, and nine – including two children and a soldier – on the Israeli side.

The UN Security Council is set to meet to discuss the crisis on Sunday, after US diplomat Hady Amr arrived in the region on Friday as part of Washington’s efforts to de-escalate the conflict.