An Israeli airstrike on Saturday demolished a Gaza City high-rise building that housed journalists from the Associated Press, Al Jazeera and other news outlets.
About an hour before, a resident of the 12-story building received a call, purportedly from the Israeli military, warning of an impending attack but giving no explanation for why the building was being targeted.
Journalists described a mad scramble to collect equipment and evacuate the building. Several networks, including Al Jazeera, then showed the building collapsing on live TV.
“I have been working here for 11 years. I have been covering many events from this building,” Al Jazeera reporter Safwat al-Kahlout said in an interview with his own outlet. “Now everything, in two seconds, just vanished.”
It’s not clear if anyone was still in the building when it was razed. AP said a dozen journalists and freelancers were inside but all managed to escape.
After receiving the warning, Al-Kahlout said he and his colleagues “started to collect as much as they could, from the personal and equipment of the office, especially the cameras.”
One of Associated Press’ Gaza correspondents, Fares Akram, tweeted that he had been watching from afar and hoping the army would not go through with its threat.
“And now bombs could fall on our office,” he wrote. “We ran down the stairs from the 11th floor and now looking at the building from afar, praying Israeli army would eventually retract.”
The Israeli Air Force later claimed, without evidence, that the building “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization.” But Al Jazeera bluntly tweeted: “Targeting journalists is a war crime.”
“The building contained civilian media offices, which the Hamas terror organization hides behind and uses as human shields,” the Israeli Air Force said. “The Hamas terror organization deliberately places military targets at the heart of densely populated civilian areas in the Gaza Strip.”
Gary Pruitt, AP’s president and CEO, said the company was “shocked and horrified” by the attack. “The Israeli military… have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there,” he said in a statement.
“We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” his statement said. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
Earlier on Saturday, another Israeli airstrike flattened a three-story home in a Gaza City refugee camp, killing eight children and two mothers, and leaving a 5-month-old baby as the family’s sole survivor.
In response, Hamas fired rockets into Israel to avenge what it called a “massacre”—the deadliest of Israel’s attacks since the conflict erupted six days ago at a Jerusalem holy site revered by both Palestinians and Jews.
The attack came as victims gathered to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, witnesses told reporters.
“There was no warning,” Jamal Al-Naji, who lived in the destroyed building, told the Associated Press.
Directing his comments toward Israel, he added: “You filmed people eating and then you bombed them? Why are you confronting us? Go and confront the strong people!”
The dead were identified by Haaretz as Maha al-Hadidi, 36, and four of her children: Suhaib, 14; ‘Abd a-Rahman, 8; Osama, 6, and Yahya, 11. Her infant, Omar, was reportedly found alive in the rubble, shielded by his mother’s body. Also killed were Jasmine Hassan, 31, and her three children: Yosef, 11; Bilal, 10, and Ala, 5.
On Saturday, the Palestinian health ministry, which is run by Hamas, said 139 Palestinians—including 39 children and 22 women—have been killed since Monday. Israel has reported eight deaths.
The stage was set for even more violence on Saturday, which is known as Nakba Day, when Palestinians remember the expulsion of 700,000 during the 1948 war.