White House: Journalists’ safety is ‘paramount’ after Gaza building bombed

The White House said Saturday that it communicated its concerns to Israel over an airstrike launched in Gaza that destroyed a building that housed several news organizations, including The Associated Press.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted following the strike on the evacuated building that the safety of journalists is “paramount.” 

“We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility,” Psaki wrote.

It was not immediately clear how or by whom the message was communicated.

The message came after Israeli forces flattened the building, which housed the AP and Al Jazeera, among other outlets, in Gaza City. The military informed the owner of the building that occupants had an hour to leave before the structure would be bombed.

The strike sparked rebukes from news organizations, which said the attack would curtail journalists’ ability to report on the escalating violence between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip.

“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. They have long known the location of our bureau and knew journalists were there. We received a warning that the building would be hit,” AP CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement.

“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life,” he added. “The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

Joel Simon, the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said the strike “raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza.”

“Journalists have an obligation and duty to cover unfolding events in Gaza and it would be illegal for the IDF to use military means to prevent it,” he added, referencing the Israeli military.

The strike also drew criticism from Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), a strident detractor of Israel’s operations in Gaza.

“Israel targeting media sources is so the world can’t see Israel’s war crimes led by the apartheid-in-chief Netanyahu. It’s so the world can’t see the killing of babies, children and their parents. It’s so the world can’t see Palestinians being massacred,” she tweeted.

The Israeli air force asserted in a statement that the building “contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices” of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has been launching barrages of rockets at Israel for weeks.

The statement accused Hamas of using civilian media offices “as human shields” and said that it also  gave people in the building a warning to evacuate.

“It uses tall buildings in Gaza for multiple military purposes such as intelligence gathering, planning attacks, command and control, and communications,” the Israel Defense Forces tweeted, referring to Hamas. “When Hamas uses a tall building for military purposes, it becomes a lawful military target.”

“The Israel Defense Forces struck a number of such buildings in recent days, but before we did so, we took steps to try and ensure that civilians would not be harmed,” it added. “We called the building’s residents and warned them to leave. We sent SMS messages. We dropped ‘roof knocker’ bombs; they make loud noises and hit only the roof. We provided sufficient time to evacuate.”

The attack on the building in Gaza City is the latest salvo in weeks of fighting in the area.

According to CNN, more than 2,000 rockets have been fired toward Israel from Gaza since Monday, while the Palestinian Health Ministry said Saturday that 139 Palestinians have been killed, including 39 children and 22 women, in retaliatory airstrikes.

Tags Gaza Strip Israel Jen Psaki Rashida Tlaib

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