Israeli warplanes attacked two buildings in Gaza that house media outlets, injuring seven journalists and underscoring once again that the control over the airwaves in early combat has become an essential part of modern warfare.
The first attack at 1.40 a.m. on Sunday targeted the Hossari Building in downtown Gaza City, which housed a radio station run by Islamic Jihad and offices of the Ma’an Palestinian news agency, as well as ARD — a German broadcaster. Khader al-Zahhar, a cameraman who was among the injured, had his leg amputated.
An Israeli Apache helicopter fired another missile at 7 a.m. — this time targeting the top of the 15-storey Al Shoruq building, not far from the earlier location.
A number of media outlets, including the Hamas’ Al Aqsa channel, the Al Arabiya television network, an Iranian television station and the Middle East Broadcast Center, have been operating from this building. No one was injured in the attack as a warning missile — the reason for the occupants to flee — was fired two minutes before the actual attack.
The strikes focused the spotlight on Israeli violations of globally accepted rules that govern the operation of media in combat zones.
The Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem cited a United Nations ruling that “journalists, media professionals and associated personnel engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered civilians, to be respected and protected as such.”
Saeb Erekat, chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, slammed Israel for demonstrating its “disdain for international law.” Salama Marouf of the Hamas media office said that Sunday’s attacks meant Israel had “lost the media battle.”
In response to the bold and unprecedented rocket strikes by Hamas on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Israel has used aerial and naval bombardment to target rocket stockpiles in Gaza. Bombs have also rained on the cross-border smuggling tunnels — the final gateway for smuggling in rockets, apparently along a complex supply chain that extends across Egypt, Sudan, and possibly Iran.
The rocket barrages from Gaza have allowed Israel to test its Iron Dome system, developed in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war, when rocket showers from the Lebanese Hizbollah shook Israel.
On Saturday, a hastily installed Iron Dome battery downed a rocket heading towards Tel Aviv. In its overall performance, the new system has managed to intercept 245 rockets out of the 500 that have targeted Israel so far, according to the Israeli military. Some analysts are of the view that the present confrontation with the Palestinians can provide Israel useful experience in fine-tuning the Iron Dome system in anticipation of much larger clash with Iran in the future.
Unlike 2008, when Hamas was much weaker and isolated when it was attacked, the group, benefiting from the political realignments caused by the Arab Spring, has many more influential friends in the region. In a reflection of the change in West Asia’s geopolitical complexion, a delegation of the 22-nation Arab League, led by its chief Nabil al-Arabi, will head to Gaza on Tuesday in support of the Palestinians.
A separate team, headed by Saad al-Katatni of Egypt’s Islamist Freedom and Justice Party will be in the coastal strip a day earlier.