Airstrike hits media building in Gaza

New York, January 9, 2009–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Israeli military’s bombing today of a Gaza City building that houses the offices of a number of international news organizations.  

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked the rooftop of Al-Johara Tower, an eight-story building located in Al-Rimal neighborhood in Gaza City, which houses more than 20 international news organizations, according to multiple news outlets.

Al-Jazeera reported that at least one journalist was injured while filing a report from the roof of the building. The journalist was not immediately identified. Staff at Al-Shifa Hospital, where the journalist was taken, said the injuries were minor, according to a statement on Web site of the Iranian Arabic-language Al-Alam TV. Satellite transmission equipment on the roof of the building was also damaged in the attack, the Iranian English-language Press TV said on its Web site.

Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, defended the strike in an interview with Al-Jazeera, saying that communications equipment in the building could have been used by Hamas.

At least one journalist has been killed in Gaza in direct relation to his work since the Israeli offensive began on December 27, CPJ research shows. Basil Ibrahim Faraj, an assistant cameraman for the Palestinian Media and Communications Company, died on Tuesday at a hospital in Egypt after suffering head injuries when his crew came under fire on the first day of the military campaign, according to multiple news reports. Atif Issa, director general of Palestinian Media and Communication Company, told CPJ that Faraj and three other three crew members were on assignment for Algerian TV when their car was hit during an airstrike near Al-Wa’d Association for Prisoners in Gaza. The other crew members were injured.  

Turkish, French, and Iranian news organizations are among those located in the Al- Johara Tower, which is meters away from the Shawa and Hosari Tower, which houses a number of major media outlets. Coordinates for both buildings were provided to the Israeli military, and floodlights were kept on both roofs to identify the buildings, according to print and television accounts.

“The Israeli military knows the location of TV facilities houses and news bureaus in Gaza. It is simply unacceptable that working journalists and their offices should come under fire in this way,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Journalists enjoy protections under international law in military campaigns such as the one in Gaza. Israel must cease its attacks on the media immediately.”

Media facilities have come under Israeli fire in two other instances since the military campaign started. On January 5, the IDF bombed the offices of the Hamas-affiliated Al-Risala newsweekly, according to multiple regional news agencies. On December 29, the IDF shelled the headquarters of Al-Aqsa TV, destroying the facilities. The station continues to broadcast from a remote location.

The IDF has sporadically taken over the frequencies of Al-Aqsa and the Gaza-based Sawt al-Sha’b radio to call on Palestinians to abandon Hamas, according to Agence France-Presse and local news reports.

In two letters sent to Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak since the beginning of the offensive, CPJ demanded an explanation for the targeting of Palestinian media and called on Israel to lift the restrictions it has placed on the entry and movement of journalists in Gaza and southern Israel. CPJ has not received a response yet.