The first Israeli attack on the building housing AFP’s Gaza office came on Tuesday night. The second hit the next afternoon, killing a child in the building next door.
The raids blew a hole in the side of the 7th-floor offices in the Naama building, the apparent target of the strike. No AFP journalists were in news agency’s offices at the time, which are located on the 4th floor.
As they arrived at the scene, AFP correspondents saw members of the Naeem family running out of the neighbouring building, carrying two-year-old Abdul Rahman.
His father, in tears and screaming, ran behind as the boy’s uncle rushed the toddler to an ambulance, hoping he might still be alive.
Shortly after, an AFP photographer at the hospital saw a doctor pronounce him dead.
Abdul Rahman’s brother Mohammed, in tears as the family fled the building, said they had been eating on the roof when the strike hit the Naama building across from them, spraying shrapnel and debris.
The building itself appeared to have been largely empty, after the first strike on Tuesday night, which the military said had targeted a “Hamas intelligence operations centre.”
“Direct hit confirmed,” the army spokesperson’s official Twitter account announced, saying warplanes had “surgically targeted a Hamas intelligence operations center on 7th floor.”
And then the army’s French-language account weighed in with a tweet addressed directly to AFP.
“This building housed a Hamas intelligence HQ, do not be used as human shields,” it warned in French, with the English site adding: The Hamas terrorists weren’t in the media building to be interviewed. They were there to communicate with field operatives and plan attacks.”
“Warning to reporters in Gaza: Stay away from Hamas operatives and facilities. Hamas, a terrorist group, will use you as human shields.”
When the first strike hit the building on Tuesday night, AFP photographer Mahmud Hams was in the agency’s office.
“It didn’t seem that close, although it shook the building, but we didn’t realise it was above us,” he said.
“About five minutes passed and then we heard two more loud explosions that also shook the building and the police radio started saying that our building, the Naama building, had been hit.
“I grabbed my cameras and left the office with the fixer and there was smoke in the hallways. We ran out of the building.”
Others in the building also ran out into the street, including members of the Abu Halima family from the northern town of Beit Hanun, who had moved into the building in the vain hope it would be safer.
Moments later, the army confirmed the building had been targeted.
“From what we understand, Hamas had a military intelligence operations room there,” a spokesman told AFP’s Jerusalem bureau.
Reporters in Gaza have come under increasing attack in the eight days of violence between Israel and Gaza militants.
Two cameramen for Hamas’s Al-Aqsa television station were killed on Tuesday when a missile hit their car which was marked as a press vehicle. And the station’s Gaza City offices were targeted in separate strikes on Sunday and Monday.
Early on Sunday, the air force hit two Gaza City media buildings, injuring eight journalists, including one who lost a leg. The following day, Israeli jets hit one of the buildings again, killing a senior Islamic Jihad militant.
The Israeli military said the strikes targeted militant communications and leaders and that efforts were taken to minimise civilian casualties.
In the early hours of Wednesday, an Israeli missile struck an empty plot on the main coastal road that houses most of the hotels currently occupied by visiting foreign correspondents.
It exploded opposite the Beach Hotel, around 100 metres from two other hotels housing AFP staff.
The force of the blast shook the street, moving furniture and blowing out windows, including the glass fronting at the Commodore Hotel, which shattered over the reception area as journalists were sending stories.
No one was hurt, and the raid’s target was unclear, with the Israeli army declining to comment. There were no obvious signs of militant activity on the plot of land, which faces the sea
A giant crater could be seen on the scene of the strike, and a car next to the plot was partially destroyed.