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Israeli Missiles Destroy Gaza Building Housing Foreign Media Outlets

By VOA News May 15, 2021

A high-rise building in Gaza City where Associated Press and Al-Jazeera are based was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes Saturday, as the worst violence between Israel and Palestinian militants since 2014 continues to escalate.

Israeli planes carried out airstrikes on Gaza and Hamas militants responded by firing rockets into Israel, as the violence between the two sides continued for a fifth night.

A 12-story building that housed apartments and other offices in addition to the media organizations was toppled by Israeli missiles after the building's owner received a warning by telephone from the Israeli military one hour before the attack that it would be struck.

AP staffers and other building occupants evacuated the building immediately, but Al-Jazeera continued to broadcast the airstrikes as the building collapsed.

"Al-Jazeera will not be silenced," an on-air anchorwoman said. "We can guarantee you that right now."

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement the news organization was "shocked and horrified" over Israel's attack on the building, while noting it received a warning from Israel.

Pruitt said AP is seeking information from Israel and the U.S. State Department about the attack, from which a dozen staffers "narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life."

"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today," Pruitt warned.

'Human shields'

The Israeli military said without evidence it destroyed the building because intelligence operatives within the Islamist militant group, Hamas, were using media offices as "human shields."

White House spokesperson Jen Psaki tweeted, "We have communicated directly to the Israelis that ensuring the safety and security of journalists and the independent media is a paramount responsibility."

U.S. President Joe Biden spoke by phone Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, their first phone call since Biden assumed the U.S. presidency in January.

Biden updated Abbas on U.S. diplomatic efforts to end the conflict, stressing that Hamas must stop firing rockets into Israel. Biden also underscored his commitment to a "negotiated two-state solution as the best path to reach a just and lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," according to a readout of the call from the White House.

Also Saturday, Biden called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and reaffirmed his support for Israel's right to defend itself from Hamas and other terrorism groups. He also expressed concern for the safety of journalists and the need to ensure their protection, according to a White House readout of the call.

Ongoing strikes

The news organizations' building was destroyed hours after another Israeli airstrike in a heavily populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians, primarily children. It was the deadliest single aerial attack since the violence began to intensify earlier this week.

Another strike killed at least two people, Palestinian health officials said.

Tensions were further heightened Saturday as Palestinians marked Nakba Day or Day of the Catastrophe, commemorating the destruction of the Palestinian homeland in 1948 for the creation of Israel.

Since the fighting began five days ago, at least 139 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 39 children and 22 women, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. At least eight Israelis have been killed in the rocket attacks, including a 6-year-old boy.

UN Security Council to convene

The U.N. Security Council has agreed to convene Sunday to discuss the situation, after plans to secure a meeting had been delayed by concerns from the United States.

"The U.S. will continue to actively engage in diplomacy at the highest levels to try to de-escalate tensions," American ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield wrote on Twitter.

A spokesman for Israel's embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, told VOA Persian interview that Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Gilad Erdan will tell the Security Council meeting that Israel has been trying to minimize civilian casualties among Palestinians as it fights Hamas.

"The Security Council should not morally equate Israel's defensive military activities with Hamas' indiscriminate war crimes. If we make this equation, Hamas is winning, and we shouldn't let the international community give Hamas that win, and the U.S. is with us on that," Strohmayer said.

Israeli officials say that most of the Palestinians killed in the Gaza airstrikes are Hamas fighters, and Hamas has acknowledged that some of its top commanders have been killed by Israel.

Mediation efforts

Israel has faced international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that if the fighting is not stopped, the conflict could "unleash an uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis" and "further foster extremism," according to U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

The U.S. envoy for the region, Hady Amr, deputy assistant secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs, arrived in Israel on Friday as part of the Biden administration's mediation efforts.

The recent violence is the biggest battle between the Palestinian militant group and Israeli forces since the 2014 war in Gaza. It was sparked by growing unrest over control of Jerusalem and attempts by Jewish settlers to take over Arab-controlled communities.

Global mediation efforts to end the fighting are continuing with Egyptian officials pressing Hamas and the U.S and others working on Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, according to two Egyptian intelligence officials.

VOA Persian's Kambiz Tavana contributed to this report.

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