Media demand Israel explain destruction of news offices

News organisations demanded an explanation for an Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the offices of major media outlets

Media demand Israel explain destruction of news offices

News organisations demanded an explanation for an Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the offices of The Associated Press, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media outlets.

AP journalists and other tenants were safely evacuated from the 12-story al-Jalaa tower after the Israeli military gave around an hours warning of an imminent strike.

Three heavy missiles hit the building within the hour, disrupting coverage of the ongoing conflict between militant group Hamas and Israel.

At least 145 people in Gaza and eight in Israel have been killed since the fighting erupted on Monday night.

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"The world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today," AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt said.

He said the American news agency was seeking information from the Israeli government and engaging with the US State Department to learn more.

READ MORE: Israeli military accused of using media to trick Hamas

Mostefa Souag, acting director-general of Al Jazeera Media Network, called the strike a "war crime" and a "clear act" to stop journalists from reporting on the conflict.

Kuwait state television also had office space in the now-collapsed Gaza City building.

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"The targeting of news organisations is completely unacceptable, even during an armed conflict. It represents a gross violation of human rights and internationally agreed norms," Barbara Trionfi, the executive director of the International Press Institute, said.

In a standard Israeli response, the military said that Hamas was operating inside the building, and it accused the militant group of using journalists as human shields.

But it provided no evidence to back up the claims.

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Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus claimed that Hamas used the building for a military intelligence office and weapons development. He said "a highly advanced technological tool" that the militant group used in the fighting was "within or on the building."

But Conricus said he could not provide evidence to back up the claims without "compromising" intelligence efforts.

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He added, however: "I think it's a legitimate request to see more information, and I will try to provide it."

Some press freedom advocates said the strike raised suspicions that Israel was trying to hinder coverage of the conflict. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists demanded Israel "provide a detailed and documented justification" for the strike.

"This latest attack on a building long known by Israel to house international media raises the specter that the Israel Defense Forces is deliberately targeting media facilities in order to disrupt coverage of the human suffering in Gaza," the group's executive director, Joel Simon, said in a statement.

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The bombing followed media consternation over an Israeli military statement that prompted some news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, to erroneously report early on Friday that Israel had launched a ground invasion of Gaza.

Israeli military commentators said the media had been used in a ruse to lure Hamas militants into a deadly trap.

Conricus denied that the military engaged in a deliberate deception when it tweeted falsely on Friday that ground forces were engaging in Gaza, calling it "an honest mistake."

The AP, based on its analysis of the army's statement, phone calls to military officials and on the ground reporting in Gaza, concluded there was no ground incursion and did not report there was one.

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The strike on a building known to have the offices of international media outlets came as a shock to reporters who had felt relatively protected there.

"Now, one can understand the feeling of the people whose homes have been destroyed by such kind of air attacks," Al-Jazeera producer Safwat al-Kahlout, who was at the bureau in Gaza when the evacuation warning came, told the broadcaster on Saturday.

"It's really difficult to wake up one day and then you realize that your office is not there with all the career experiences, memories that you've had."

For 15 years, AP's top floor offices and roof terrace on the now-destroyed building had provided a prime location for covering fighting in Gaza.

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1393588899709177859?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

The news agency's camera offered 24-hour live shots this week as Hamas rockets arched toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes hammered the city.

Just a day before the bombing, AP correspondent Fares Akram wrote in a personal story that the AP office was the only place in Gaza were he felt "somewhat safe."

https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1393531209611943945?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

"The Israeli military has the coordinates of the high-rise, so it's less likely a bomb will bring it crashing down," Mr Akram wrote.

The next day, Mr Akram tweeted about running from the building and watching its destruction from afar.

PEN America, an organization promoting literature and freedom of speech, said on Saturday that the only reason the world knows about the ongoing fighting between Gaza's Hamas rulers and Israel is due to the "tireless, indefatigable work of journalists, risking their lives to inform the world."

"The resulting destruction will hobble the ability of professional journalists to do their work documenting a fraught, complex conflict at a critical time," the organisation said.

Source : 9 News More   

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Wealthy Indians shut out of Maldives as COVID-19 cases surge

Maldives has banned tourists from South Asia, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their own country's COVID-19 crisis.

Wealthy Indians shut out of Maldives as COVID-19 cases surge

Maldives has banned tourists from South Asia, cutting off an escape route for wealthy Indians fleeing their own country's COVID-19 crisis.

The atoll nation's Ministry of Tourism and immigration authority announced the temporary ban on Tuesday, which applies to all visa holders from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as people who have transited those countries in the past 14 days.

The ban, effective Thursday, will be in place until further notice as Maldives tries to control a surge in coronavirus cases, which jumped from around 100 new cases in mid-April to 1,572 on Wednesday.

That's the highest number of daily new cases in the country since the start of the pandemic, according to the Health Protection Agency.

And it comes amid a rise in new cases across the region, particularly in India, where a second wave is killing thousands of people every day.

Maldives was one of the first countries to fully reopen to tourists last year, and in recent weeks it has become a popular refuge for wealthy Indians, including Bollywood stars, whose luxury vacation snaps provoked anger at home.

The travel ban doesn't apply to people already in the archipelago, but it will frustrate the plans of those who had hoped of a potential escape to Maldives.

Bollywood blowback

As India sank deeper into a Covid-19 crisis that began in mid-March, a number of Bollywood entertainers reportedly left the country.

Actresses including Alia Bhatt, Shraddha Kapoor, Disha Patani and Janhvi Kapoor were among those who traveled to Maldives, according to CNN affiliate CNN-News18.

They were not alone. This year, India has become the largest source of tourists to Maldives. From January to March, almost 70,000 Indians visited the country - double the number of Indian holidaymakers who traveled to the islands in the whole of 2020, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

The cost of flying to Maldives from India rose sharply in April, as countries began to impose travel bans to and from India.

Bollywood actress Alia Bhatt at the 20th International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) Awards in Mumbai, September 2019.

Commercial flight prices rose more than fourfold as international restrictions limited travel options, said Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, an air charter company based in India.Some individuals paid more than $65,000 for a one-way ticket for a charter flight to Maldives in April, Mehra added.

In the early weeks of April, several Bollywood stars posted sunny beach photos and vacation shots on social media - angering the Indian public and film industry figures who accused them of flaunting their wealth at a difficult time for many poorer Indians.

"These entertainment celebrities (are) posting vacation pictures at a time when the world is reeling under the worst recession," said Bollywood actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui, according to CNN-News18.

"People don't have food and you are wasting money."

Even celebrities who didn't fly to Maldives faced blowback for not doing more to help curb the spread of Covid-19.

Critics argued the stars' massive social media base could be used to amplify calls for help or to coordinate efforts on the ground.

It appears some may be listening.

Since paparazzi images purported to show her leaving India for Maldives, Bhatt has shared helpline numbers for non-government organizations and state governments on her social media accounts.

In one post in late April she said India was facing "a time of great uncertainty."In early May, Bhatt and a number of other celebrities also took part in a virtual fundraiser, "I Breathe For India," that raised more than $2 million in Covid relief funds.

Covid spreads in India's neighbors

Maldives' economy is heavily reliant on tourism - before the pandemic, the islands welcomed 1.7 million visitors in 2019.

Numbers plummeted to just over half a million in 2020, and the nation had been keen to set itself apart as one of the few luxury retreats as the pandemic spread worldwide.

While many other destinations shut their borders, the Maldives chose to fully reopen to travelers from any country in July 2020.

Male, the capital island of the Maldives.

This April, officials announced plans to offer vaccinations to tourists on arrival, once all Maldives residents had received their shots. So far, around 25% of locals have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by CNN.

By May, Maldives was introducing new restrictions. All new arrivals were required to show proof of a negative test taken within 96 hours of their departure for the islands. Then, visitors from South Asia were only allowed to stay on inhabited islands.

Mehra, the air charter CEO, said that had reduced demand for charter flights to the destination.

Maldives is not the only place in Asia battling a Covid resurgence.

The India outbreak has been linked to a rise in infections in several nearby countries, with many reporting cases of a variant first detected in India.

Cases have skyrocketed in Nepal to the north and Sri Lanka to the south. And it's not just India's neighbors - further away in Southeast Asia, case numbers are also rising in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The rapid spread of the virus has placed enormous pressure on the countries' health systems and medical supplies, and some have called for international assistance.

But a handful countries in the region have been relatively unscathed by India's second wave -- and remain open for visitors.

Maldives' restrictions mean many wealthy Indians are now looking elsewhere for a getaway - and Dubai is emerging as a top alternative destination, with bookings increasing by up to 10 percent in recent weeks, said Mehra.

Some customers have paid up to $1,400 for a ticket - five times what it normally costs on a commercial flight, Mehra said.

The Maldives travel ban aside, similar flight restrictions from other countries could also be driving the increase in traffic to Dubai, he added.

Source : 9 News More   

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