Israel has bombed a 12-storey building of media offices and apartments and struck a Palestinian house, killing ten family members, as Hamas fired a barrage of missiles on Tel Aviv in worsening violence.
The destroyed al-Jalaa tower in Gaza housed the offices of foreign media organisations US-based Associated Press and Al Jazeera (of Qatar)) but Israel claimed it was also used by the Islamist militant group Hamas.
In Tel Aviv, residents fled for cover amid wailing sirens as Hamas militants retaliated with barrages of rockets. One hit a residential block in the Ramat Gan suburb, killing a 50-year old man, medics said.
The group said it was responding to overnight strikes that hit a house on Gaza’s Beach refugee camp killing a woman, four of her children and five others, according to medics. Israel said it had targeted an apartment used by Hamas.
The attack on the al-jalaa tower has been condemned as an attempt to thwart international journalists from reporting the impact of Israel’s air strikes on Gaza which Israel has denied.
The building was evacuated after the owner received advanced warning of the impending strike on Saturday while Israel said it had provided alerts to civilians, allowing them to get out.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the strike “an incredibly disturbing development”.
He said a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building and had been evacuated in time.
“We are shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organisations in Gaza,” he said in a statement.
“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”
The Israeli military said its “fighter jets struck a multi-story building which contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organisation”.
Asked why the entire al-Jalaa building was destroyed, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said: “There was no way of taking down only the Hamas facilities that were in the building. It was deemed necessary to take down the whole building.”
The US government said it had told Israel to ensure the safety of journalists.
“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki tweeted.
The acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the strike “barbaric” and said Israel should be held accountable.
“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza,” he said in a statement.
Lieutenant Colonel Conricus rejected the notion that Israel was seeking to silence the media.
“That is totally false, the media is not the target,” he told Reuters.
He said Hamas might have calculated that by placing their “assets” inside a building with news media offices in it “they probably hoped that would keep them safe from Israeli attack”.
The Israeli military has said during nearly a week of intense conflict that its strikes on buildings in Gaza were aimed at hitting targets used by Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the enclave.
It also claimed to have bombed the house of a senior leader of Hamas Khalil al-Hayya.
The house served as “terror infrastructure,” the army said, releasing a video of the attack.
According to Palestinian sources, al-Hayya was not in the house at the time of the attack.
Palestinians say at least 140 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza since the conflict erupted on Monday. Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.
Hamas militants have fired more than 2,000 rockets at Israel during the latest violence. Palestinians medics say at least 139 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported nine dead, including two children.
Diplomacy has so far failed to quell the worst escalation in fighting between Israel and Palestinians since 2014.
Hamas began its assault on Monday after tensions over a court case to evict several Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near the city’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.