‘Give us 10 minutes’: How Israel bombed a media tower in Gaza | Freedom of the Press News

Youmna al-Sayed had a little more than an hour to save.

But with just one elevator working on the al-Jalaa tower, an 11-storey building in Gaza City with 60 apartments and several offices, along with Al Jazeera Media Network and The Associated Press, al- Sayed makes a dash for the stairs.

“We left the elevator for the elderly and for the children to evacuate,” said a Palestinian freelance journalist. “And we’re all running up the stairs and who can help the kids get them,” he added. “I personally helped the two children of the residents there and I took them downstairs – everyone was running fast.”

Earlier, the Israeli army, which has been bombing Gaza for six consecutive days, issued a telephone warning that residents had only one hour to evacuate the building previously. it was attacked by fighter jets.

Al Jazeera’s Safwat al-Kahlout should also be quick to act. He and his colleagues “started collecting as much as possible, from personal and office equipment – especially cameras”, according to al -Kahlout.

But it takes a lot of time.

“Just give me 15 minutes,” an AP reporter pleaded over the phone to an Israeli intelligence official. “We have a lot of equipment, including cameras, other things,” he added from outside the building. “I can get it all out.”

Jawad Mahdi, the owner of the building, also tried to buy several hours.

“All I asked was to allow four people… to go inside and take their cameras,” he told the officer. “We respect your requests, we won’t do it if you don’t allow it, but give us 10 minutes.”

“Less than 10 minutes,” the officer replied. “Not allowed to enter the building, we give you an hour to evacuate.”

When the request was denied, Mahdi said: “You have destroyed the work, the memory, the life of our life. I will hang, do what you want. There is a God.”

The Israeli army claims to have “military intelligence interests in Hamas” in the building, a standard line used after the bombing of buildings in Gaza, and accuses the group operating in the territory of using reporters as human shields. However, it did not provide evidence to back up its claims.

“I’ve worked in this office for over 10 years and I haven’t seen anything [suspicious], ”Al-Kahlout said.

“I even asked my colleagues if they saw any suspicion and they all confirmed to me that they have not yet seen any aspects of the military or fighters coming in and out,” he added.

“In our building, we have a lot of families that we’ve known for over 10 years, we meet every day as we get in and out of the office.”

Gary Pruitt, president and CEO of AP, also told Al Jazeera: “I can tell you we’ve been in that building for about 15 years for our office. We never understood that Hamas was there.”

Al-Sayed, who covered the Israeli bombing for Al Jazeera and worked for the AP, said he did not understand what threat could be posed to establishing families and offices for lawyers, doctors and media workers. .

“Where did the alarm come from? Where are Hamas or any members of the military who can be in this building? “asked the Gaza resident.

“The people here, the residents, everyone has acquaintances. The first five floors are for offices that [closed] at this time of growing up. Looks like that’s exactly what it is [still here] the two Al Jazeera and AP media offices and the residential apartments. ”

Still, at 3:12 pm (12:12 GMT), Israel’s first strike arrived. Five minutes later, the al-Jalaa tower fell to the ground after being hit by three missiles sending a dark cloud of dust and debris into the air. There were no immediate reports of deaths.

“Years of memory, years of work on this building, all of a sudden, everything is ruined,” said al-Kahlout, referring to the tower from whose roof he always broadcasts. “Nawala ra.”

Islam az-Zaeem, a lawyer working on the building, was at home when his cousin-the owner of the Johara building who slept one night on May 13-knocked on his door and was told that al-Jalaa was about to be destroyed.

“I was running around the building and I saw residents and other employees gathering outside,” az-Zaeem told Al Jazeera.

“I went in and took the stairs because there was no electricity and the elevators weren’t working. I was hysterical, and fell several times into the dark, screaming and crying. “

Az-Zaeem, who said nine legal associates and four co-workers worked on his floor, left the building five minutes before it was leveled.

“Even when the building collapsed, I kept screaming that I forgot to lock the door to my office,” he said. “Imagine that.”

The building, built in the mid -1990s, is one of the oldest high -rise in Gaza City.

Fares al-Ghoul, executive director for Mayadeen Media Group, said his company was previously based in the Shorouq building, which was destroyed by Israeli missiles on May 13.

“The upper floor of Shorouq was targeted by the war in 2014,” he said. “In 2019, we moved the company to the al-Jalaa building because we thought it would be safer, because it would house the offices of international media agencies.”

“Now both are destroyed,” he said.

The bombing of al-Jalaa, widely condemned as an attempt to “silence” the reporters covering the Israeli offensive, came hours after an Israeli air raid on the Shati refugee camp killed 10 members of the same family – Eight children, two girls – celebrated Eid al -Fitr, the religious festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

At least 145 Palestinians, including 39 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the start of Israeli airstrikes on Palestinian coastal territory on Monday. About 950 more were injured.

The violence came after Israel’s plan to force the evacuation of Palestinian families from occupied East Jerusalem and its attack on Palestinian worshipers in the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque encouraged widespread protests in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and inside Israel. Hamas says it has started firing rockets at Israel in response to Israel’s crackdown. At least nine people were also killed in Israel.

As night fell in Gaza, families and reporters began returning to al-Jalaa in hopes of rescuing some of their belongings buried under the rubble.

“Someone came back to find some paintings made by his daughter because these paintings carry so many memories,” said al-Kahlout, who went on to report from the streets of the injured enclave. “We moved outside and are now applying our emergency plans for reporting. We are trying to be safe. There is no safe place in Gaza but we are trying to do the best we can.”

Meanwhile, Al-Sayed, was on his way to al-Shifa Hospital, which was believed to be a safe space to broadcast from. “It’s devastating,” he said of the flattening of the al-Jalaa building.

“I worked in that area and it broke my heart to see it brought to the ground, it was pathetic. Wherever we work or live, we have strange memories,” he added.

“What about the families who lost their homes, who lost everything they had saved to get these apartments? In Gaza, it’s not an easy thing to get an apartment, and now in a few minutes, [they] lost all.

“Words can’t describe the amount of destruction, can’t describe the tragedy people went through.”

A Palestinian police officer stands in the trash in the al-Jalaa building [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

With more reporting of @LinahAlsaafin.

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