Labour condemns Israeli airstrike which destroyed tower housing media in Gaza

An Israeli airstrike that demolished a high-rise building housing media outlets in Gaza has been condemned as “completely unacceptable” by Labour.

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said “press freedom is a fundamental right” after the attack destroyed the tower containing offices of The Associated Press and Al-Jazeera.

After journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated, three heavy missiles pounded the 12-storey building, razing it to the ground, amid spiralling violence between Israel and Palestine.

The strike came hours after at least 10 Palestinians, mostly children and from an extended family, were killed in an Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp.

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The AP news agency said the targeting of the media building is “an incredibly disturbing development” and warned the “world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today”.

The Israeli military said the building contained military assets belonging to Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs Gaza.

Ms Nandy condemned the airstrike and called for the Government to join allies in calling for a ceasefire, amid concerns the conflict could escalate into all-out war.

“The targeting of media offices in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes is completely unacceptable. Press freedom is a fundamental right,” she said in a statement.

“The devastating escalation of violence, including Hamas rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and air strikes on the Gaza City refugee camp, has cost more civilian lives and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

“The UK must join our international partners in calling for an immediate ceasefire, an end to all rocket attacks and airstrikes, and work with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders to prevent this dangerous situation deteriorating further.”

The White House told Israel that “ensuring the safety and security of journalists and independent media is a paramount responsibility”.

In London, thousands of people marched in solidarity with the people of Palestine on Saturday.

Palestine solidarity march – London
Demonstrators walk through Kensington (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

They chanted “free Palestine” and called for the end of the Israeli bombing as they marched towards the Israeli embassy in Kensington.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “The ongoing violence across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is deeply concerning and must end.

“There is never any justification for targeting innocent civilians. Both sides need to de-escalate and offer hope to their peoples, which can only come through political dialogue.”

Occupants of the tower in Gaza City were safely evacuated after the military telephoned with a warning that they would strike within an hour.

The Israel Defence Forces said fighter jets targeted the building “containing Hamas military intelligence assets”.

“The building contained civilian media offices, which Hamas hides behind and deliberately uses as human shields,” it added.

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But Gary Pruitt, the president of the American news agency, said: “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.

“This is an incredibly disturbing development. We narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life. A dozen AP journalists and freelancers were inside the building and thankfully we were able to evacuate them in time.

“The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, insisted the tower was a “legal target” because “there were assets in that building that were part of the Hamas war machine”.

He said Israel had acted “very appropriately” by allowing civilians to evacuate, telling BBC News that he is “very satisfied not a single journalist was hurt”.

“From my point of view that is a success,” he added.

The conflict has been building since tensions began in Jerusalem earlier this month with Palestinian protests against settlers’ attempts to evict Palestinian families and Israeli police measures at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel since Monday night, while Israel has fired at the Gaza Strip.

At least 139 people have been killed in Gaza, including 39 children and 22 women. Eight people have died in Israel.