THE LEVANT – Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza came under fire Tuesday, and the network says it is holding Israel responsible.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said Tuesday that Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s harsh comments about the network a day earlier “were a direct threat against us and appear to have been taken as a green light for the targeting of our journalists in Gaza.”
“We hold the Israeli authorities fully responsible,” the spokesman said. “They have put the lives of journalists in danger.”
On Monday, Lieberman said his government is looking to stop the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera from operating in Israel, and claimed the network airs propaganda for Hamas.
“Al Jazeera has abandoned even the semblance of a credible media outlet, and it broadcasts — both within Gaza and outside it, to the world — anti-Semitic incitement, lies, provocation and encouragement to terrorists,” Lieberman said, according to Haaretz.
Several journalists tweeted Tuesday that the Gaza office had come under fire and people were evacuating the building, which also houses media outlets like The Associated Press.
An IDF spokeswoman told The Huffington Post that the military did not target Al Jazeera’s office and is aware that it is located in a press building.
Stefanie Dekker, a reporter for Al Jazeera English, tweeted Tuesday that “two warning shots” went straight into Al Jazeera’s office and employees were evacuating. Al Jazeera English’s Nicole Johnston tweeted that the Israeli Defense Forces confirmed firing two shots at the news bureau. An Al Jazeera article does not unequivocally state that Israel fired the shots.
Israel recently struck the offices of Palestinian media outlets in Gaza, the scene of a two-week assault in which more than 600 Palestinians have been killed and 3,700 wounded. Twenty-seven Israeli soldiers have died in the conflict, which Israel faults Hamas for starting by firing missiles from Gaza.
In Nov. 2012, Israel targeted media outlets during air strikes on Gaza, and in recent days has warned foreign journalists that the country will not be responsible if they are injured covering the latest conflict.
An AP spokesman declined to comment on the news organization’s location in Gaza, but said that “all AP staffers in the region are safe.”
The Al Jazeera Media Network operates several news channels, including the U.S.-based network Al Jazeera America, Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera Arabic, the latter of which is seen as most critical of Israel.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush administration officials condemned Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language network for airing video messages from Osama bin Laden. The U.S. military struck Al Jazeera offices in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The Qatar-backed media network has since launched the English-language and U.S. networks, both which have more won the respect of lawmakers and the current White House.
David Zurawik, a TV critic for the Baltimore Sun, recently praised Al Jazeera America’s coverage of the killings of three Israeli and on Palestinian teenager.
An Al Jazeera spokesman said it “will continue reporting all aspects of the events taking place, with the utmost professionalism, with commitment to the human side of the story” and will take “all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our crews.”
“A threat to one is a threat to all, and this is a dark sign for all journalists operating in the territory,” he said. “Journalists must be protected while doing their job of giving the public information they have the right to know, helping them understand what is going on. Journalism is not a crime!”
Al Jazeera’s contention that “journalism is not a crime” echoes the network’s recent campaign to bring worldwide attention to the trial of three Al Jazeera English journalists in Egypt. The three journalists were sentenced to prison following a trial widely considered a sham and condemned by foreign governments and human rights organizations.