Israel-Gaza: Owner of destroyed media building, al-Jalaa, filmed begging Israeli officer for extra time before airstrike

The owner of the Gaza City tower destroyed by an Israeli airstrike was captured on live television desperately pleading with the military to allow an extra 10 minutes for journalists to rescue their equipment before the scheduled missile barrage.

The airstrike on Saturday (local time) targeted the al-Jalaa tower in Gaza City, a 12-storey building housing the offices of media outlets including The Associated Press (AP) and broadcaster Al-Jazeera, as well as other apartments.

Journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated from the tower after the Israeli military issued a warning of an imminent strike, giving occupants just one hour to empty the building before its fighter jets were launched. 

The Israeli military argued the al-Jalaa tower was a legitimate target as the building "contained military assets belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terror organization". It also confirmed it had provided advance warning to civilians in the building, allowing them time to escape.

A Palestinian journalist was wounded in the strike, according to local media, as debris and shrapnel were ejected from the site of the crumbling tower.

The advance warning was issued by an Israeli intelligence officer to the building's owner, Jawad Medhi, who was captured on live television begging the officer for more time. 

Speaking to the officer on the phone, Medhi was filmed pleading for an extra "10 minutes" to allow journalists to retrieve their cameras and equipment.

The footage has since been widely circulated on social media, with the Middle East Eye (MEE) - a news outlet that also had offices at the al-Jalaa - later sharing the phone call to its Twitter account.

"We just need 10 minutes. Nothing will change from 3pm to 3:10pm," Medhi says urgently as a crowd of onlookers gather around him.

Medhi told the officer just four people, wearing press vests, would be sent into the building to collect cameras and other equipment before the airstrike. 

"There's no one here that wants any trouble," he said. "We just want 10 minutes, ask your supervisor - nothing's going to happen."

But the officer repeatedly denied Medhi's request, telling him that no one was allowed to reenter the building. 

"There will be no 10 minutes… we already gave you an hour to evacuate. This is for them, not for me," the officer can be heard saying on the other end of the phone.

Medhi continued to plead that no one cared for the building - "we're not crying about the building, it's fine" - but journalists were desperate to collect their work gear. 

"Our life's work is all gone - our memories, our lives you've just wasted. You really want me saying all this on camera?... I'm going to hang up now, and you can do whatever you want."

The officer then asks if anyone is still inside, to which Medhi confirms there isn't.

"Okay," the officer replies. Onlookers suddenly begin to clamour and look upwards. 

Three heavy missiles hit the building within the hour, disrupting coverage of the ongoing conflict. At least 145 people in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the fighting erupted on Monday night.

The al-Jalaa tower was hit by missiles on Saturday, destroying the offices of several prominent media organisations and injuring a Palestinian journalist.
The al-Jalaa tower was hit by missiles on Saturday, destroying the offices of several prominent media organisations and injuring a Palestinian journalist. Photo credit: Getty Images

AP president and CEO Gary Pruitt called the strike "an incredibly disturbing development". He added a dozen AP journalists and freelancers had been in the building at the time of the warning and were evacuated.

"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," he said in a statement. "The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today."

The US government said it had told Israel to ensure the safety of journalists inside the al-Jalaa tower before launching its attack.

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

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Pruitt on Saturday evening (local time) and "offered his unwavering support for independent journalists and media organizations around the world", a State Department spokesman said in a statement.

The acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, Dr Mostefa Souag, called the strike "barbaric" and said Israel should be held accountable for the airstrike.

“The aim of this heinous crime is to silence the media and to hide the untold carnage and suffering of the people of Gaza," he said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus rejected the notion that Israel was seeking to silence the media. "That is totally false, the media is not the target," he told Reuters.

Asked why the entire building was destroyed, Conricus said: "There was no way of taking down only the Hamas facilities that were in the building. They occupied several floors in the building and it was impossible only to take down those floors. It was deemed necessary to take down the whole building."

During nearly a week of intense conflict, the Israeli military has said its strikes on buildings in Gaza are aimed at targets used by Hamas, the Islamist group that runs the enclave.

Hamas militants have fired more than 2000 rockets at Israel during the latest spate of violence. Palestinian medics say at least 140 people, including 39 children, have been killed in Gaza. Israel has reported 10 fatalities, including two children. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden in a phone call that Israel is doing everything it can to avoid harming civilians amid the escalating violence.

The Prime Minister said the evacuations of non-combatants was proof of the Israeli military's commitment to keep non-combatants safe, according to a summary of the phone call released by Netanyahu's office.

Biden has also engaged in his first call with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas since taking office in January, during which he called for calm between Israel and Gaza and affirmed his support for a two-state solution.

Reuters / Newshub.