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AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

The AFP office à Gaza, severely damaged on November 2, 2023, by a strike, was probably destroyed by a strike. touch&eac; by Israeli tank fire, according to an investigation carried out by AFP and several international media, published Tuesday.

Some fifty journalists from 13 organisations, including the Guardian, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and the Arab press organisation ARIJ, investigated for four months under the aegis of Forbidden Stories, an international network of journalists specialising in investigations.

The consortium has worked on dozens of cases of journalists and press infrastructures affected since the start of the devastating war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, triggered by the bloody attack by the Palestinian Islamist movement in Israel on 7 October.

The strike against the AFP office in Gaza on 2 November did not cause any casualties, as the team had then evacuated the city, but the computer server room was ravaged.

The investigation and expert reports were based on the images and sounds captured live by the camera of the international agency which broadcast the images live, one of the rare press organizations to do so at the time.

The work also relied on photos of the debris taken the day after the strikes and again a few months later, as well as the analysis of satellite images.

Five experts, not all of whom agreed to be cited, judged it likely with a good degree of certainty that the office was hit by a tank shell, a weapon not available to the Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip.

Other experts consulted did not speak so affirmatively, but ruled out air or drone strikes in view of the damage observed.

The hypothesis of a rocket or an anti-tank missile, munitions available to Hamas, has been ruled out with a good degree of certainty by several experts .

The day after the incident, the Israeli army, which had the coordinates of the AFP office, denied having targeted the building and raised the possibility of a strike “nearby which could have caused debris”.

Recontacted in June for the purposes of the investigation, the Israeli army held the same line. “The AFP offices were not the target of the attack and the damage caused could have been caused by the shock wave or the shrapnel,” she said without clearly mentioning which attack or what date she was talking about.

She added that the incident was being looked into by an internal investigative body, the State Investigation and Assessment Mechanism -major general.

Important questions remain unanswered, given the virtual impossibility of investigating on site due to the intensity of the conflict.< /p>

Here is a summary of what the investigation established.

The AFP office in Gaza

The AFP opened an office in 1993 in Gaza, in the wake of the Oslo Accords. It employs 7 journalists, a technician and an accountant, some of them for two or even three decades.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

At the AFP offices in Gaza, February 4, 2015 © AFP – Thomas COEX

During a move in 2015, AFP moved into the Hajji Tower, an imposing building located in the al-Rimal neighborhood of Gaza, a stone's throw from the seafront. The agency occupies the top three floors – including the roof terrace – of the building.

It is one of these “symbolic” offices of the AFP network, because it is located in a conflict zone, in a territory without a strong presence of the foreign press, and where the staff has covered several wars, recalls the agency's information director, Phil Chetwynd.

“The office is our second home,” explains journalist Adel Zaanoun, summing up the feeling of the entire AFP team. “For us, it has always been a safe place, a refuge, through crises and wars.”

The office in the Hajji Tower “was special,” insists Mr. Zaanoun. “He had this view, very beautiful over the sea and so useful for covering all the wars”.

In fact, from the start of the conflict, the AFP in Gaza , from the 10th floor offering an incomparable view of the city, is one of the rare agencies to broadcast live images of the bombings, broadcast around the world

L'. agency, whose presence in Gaza is well known by both Israel and Hamas, transmitted the address and coordinates of the office to the Israeli army in the first days of the war

~. 60~p>The facts

On November 2, 2023, several explosions shook the building, leaving a gaping hole in the facade and devastating the AFP computer server room, located on the 11th floor. In total, four explosions can be heard in or near the building on the live broadcast by the AFP camera.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

Destroyed computer equipment at the AFP premises in Hajji Tower, Gaza, photographed on April 3, 2024 © AFP – –

The explosions and falling debris are captured by this camera positioned one floor below, on the 10th floor, on the balcony.

The camera, connected to solar panels, is not affected, and will continue to broadcast after a few interruptions. The live broadcast will finally be definitively switched off on November 12, with no one being able to come and restart it.

AFP journalists are not present at the time of the strikes. They evacuated Gaza City on October 13, when the Israeli army issued an evacuation order to all civilians in the city.

What do we see on the live and what do the experts say ?

Several flashes of light are visible from a distance, a few seconds before the detonations in and/or around the building.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

Photo taken on April 3, 2024 of the AFP server room destroyed during a strike against the Hajji Tower, which hosted several media outlets, in Gaza, November 2, 2023 © AFP – –

Several experts have established a correlation between these flashes, probably marking the origin of the shots, and the detonations.

For the researcher under the pseudonym War Noir, co-founder of Militant Wire, specializing in conflict analysis, “it is very likely that these flashes of light come from a weapon.” “They are probably linked to the explosions, considering that the time between each flash and the explosions is almost the same”, he adds.

“Generally speaking, I would say it's very likely that most of the attacks recorded in the live stream were caused by a tank gun,” says the researcher.

From the footage damage – a gaping hole in the facade of the building, showers of shrapnel on the walls, and debris – five experts interviewed lean towards a tank shell.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

An Israeli army tank stationed on the edge of the Gaza Strip, June 5, 2024 © AFP – JACK GUEZ

Adrian Wilkinson, an independent British engineer expert in explosives who has collaborated with the UN and the International Criminal Court, believes that the damage observed in the AFP premises is compatible with an “armor-piercing shell” of caliber 120 mm M339 used by Israeli tanks.

Palestinian groups do not have tanks or this type of ammunition.

< p>“No other actor has a weapon system capable of firing in line of sight with an explosive charge of 2.3 kilos, which is consistent with the damage caused inside the building,” underlines the expert .

“The weapon type and its accuracy, consistent with an Israeli tank, indicate that the weapon hit its intended target. Why did it was drawn ? I am not in a position to comment,” concludes Mr. Wilkinson.

A French military specialist in weapons considers the possibility of a tank shell “greater than 7 on a scale of 1 to 10”. “If it had been a missile we would have seen other types of fragments,” he said.

On this same scale, Trevor Ball, a former explosives specialist in the US army, says: “I would give it a 10, due to the limited damage and fragments compatible with tank ammunition.”

Questions and unknowns

Where did the shots come from ?

< p>An analysis carried out by journalists from the consortium based on the calculation of the speed of sound and from satellite images determines the distance of the shots at approximately 3 km northeast of the office. These calculations were considered “solid” and “consistent” by several of the experts interviewed.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

Map of the Gaza Strip © AFP – Sylvie HUSSON, Sabrina BLANCHARD

The radius determined for the presumed origin of the shots points to a vacant lot near the sea, some 3 km northeast of the AFP office. Israeli tanks (which at that time were completing the encirclement of Gaza City) were observed in or near this area before and after the day of the strikes, according to satellite images.

On the other hand, it was impossible to obtain a complete image of the terrain on November 2. The American company Maxar, requested by the consortium, only provided a very reduced image in which the entire wasteland cannot be seen, and claimed “not to be able to provide” the complete view.

Sending a journalist today to take photos at the alleged shooting site is too dangerous, given the intensity of the conflict.

If the investigation was not able to establish with certainty the existence of a clear line of sight from the vacant lot towards the AFP building, however, it found no element allowing it to be categorically excluded.

The other big question is what was intended, and for what purpose.

There was – there for the Israeli army a target near or in the building ? “We have no indication that Hamas fighters were in the building on November 2”, according to the director of the information from AFP Phil Chetwynd.

The strike against the AFP is part of a context of repeated attacks against press infrastructures since the start of the conflict.

Is this a deliberate strategy ? It is impossible to provide a formal answer to this question, only elements of context and a bundle of clues.

On November 2, approximately fifty minutes before the strikes that hit the AFP office, another building housing media, Al-Ghefary, was hit in the same neighborhood. The strike devastated the office on the 16th floor of this tower, one of the tallest in Gaza, where the offices of Palestinian Media Group were located, which also broadcast live for several clients, including the international agency Reuters.

A PMG journalist is injured in the legs in this strike.

A second strike will hit the PMG offices on November 3.

For Hassan Madhoun, the director of PMG, there is no doubt: “it was aimed directly at the cameras.”

Concerning the strike on AFP, Chourouk Assad, spokesperson for the Palestinian Journalists' Union (PJS), is equally categorical.

“This is a clear and direct attack on a press office. Israel knows the importance of live images, particularly for the international press that uses them,” she says.

AFP office hit in Gaza: international media investigation points to Israeli tank fire

Journalists film from the top of a damaged building, opposite the ravaged Al-Salam hospital building in Khan Younis, on April 7, 2024, in the Gaza Strip © AFP – –

Another serious incident involving a “live” occurred on October 13, in southern Lebanon. That day, a Reuters journalist was killed and six other reporters, including two from AFP, injured, by an Israeli tank shell, according to an AFP investigation. They were part of a group of reporters, including those from Al Jazeera, who were broadcasting live the Israeli bombings against the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.

And now ?

“We want a clear and transparent investigation into what happened in southern Lebanon, and in our bureau in Gaza,” insists Phil Chetwynd. “We need answers. Any attack in which journalists or media facilities are hit is extremely serious,” he stresses.

“Under international humanitarian law, media facilities are civilian facilities, so targeting them would potentially amount to a war crime,” recalls Irene Khan, UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression.


All reproduction and representation rights reserved. © (2024) Agence France-Presse

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116