GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — An Israeli airstrike on Saturday targeted and destroyed a high-rise building in Gaza City that housed offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. Hours later, Israel bombed the home of Khalil al-Hayeh, a top leader of Gaza's ruling militant Hamas group.
The Israeli military said Al-Hayeh's home served as part of what it said was the militant group's "terrorist infrastructure." Al-Hayeh is a senior figure in the Hamas political leadership in Gaza, and the attack marked a further escalation, signaling that Israel is going after Hamas' top leadership, and not just military commanders. His fate after the strike was not immediately known.
Earlier, AP staffers and other tenants safely evacuated the building after the military telephoned a warning that the strike was imminent within an hour. Three heavy missiles struck the 12-story building, collapsing it in a giant cloud of dust.
For 15 years, the AP's top-floor office and roof terrace were a prime location for covering Israel's conflicts with Gaza's Hamas rulers, including wars in 2009 and 2014. The news agency's camera offered 24-hour live shots as militants' rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city and its surrounding area this week.
"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today," AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a statement. "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," he said, adding that the AP was seeking information from the Israeli government and was engaged with the U.S. State Department to learn more.
The building also housed the offices of Qatari-run Al-Jazeera TV, as well as residential apartments. The Israeli military said Hamas was operating inside the building, a standard explanation, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields. But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.
Hours earlier, another Israeli air raid on a densely populated refugee camp killed at least 10 Palestinians from an extended family, mostly children, the deadliest single strike of the current conflict.
Since Monday night, Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, which has pounded the Gaza Strip with strikes.