GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli airstrikes killed three Palestinian journalists in their cars on Tuesday, a Gaza health official and the head of the Hamas-run Al Aqsa TV said. Israel acknowledged targeting the men, claiming they had ties to militants.
Later Tuesday, an Israeli airstrike hit a building that houses the office of the French news agency Agence France Presse. An agency photojournalist who was in the office at the time said the target appeared to be two floors above him. No one was injured and the agency office was not damaged.
The strikes came on the seventh day of Israel's offensive against Gaza's Hamas rulers. A number of journalists have been killed over the years while covering fighting between the Jewish state and the Palestinian militant group, but not in targeted strikes that Israel acknowledged.
Two of those killed were cameramen working for Al Aqsa TV, the centerpiece of a growing Hamas media empire, said station head Mohammed Thouraya. The two were driving in a car with press markings in Gaza City on Tuesday afternoon, shortly after wrapping up an assignment at the city's Shifa Hospital, Thouraya added.
The station said the car was hit by a missile and broadcast the aftermath, with the vehicle consumed by flames. Thouraya said the bodies of the two, Mohammed al-Koumi and Hussam Salam, were badly burned.
Later Tuesday, another Israeli missile killed an employee for Al Quds Educational Radio, a private station, said Ashraf al-Kidra, a Gaza health official. Mohammed Abu Eisha died when his car was hit in the central Gaza town of Deir el-Balah, al-Kidra said.
Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, an Israeli military spokeswoman, said a preliminary investigation showed all three were Hamas operatives, but would not elaborate.
Israel has struck a wide range of Hamas-linked targets during its offensive, including rocket launching sites and the homes of suspected activists, killing more than 120 people.
Asked whether Israel had widened its range of targets to include journalists working for media run by Hamas or other militant groups, Leibovich said: "The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity."
Thouraya denied that the two employees killed Tuesday were linked to violence.
"Our crew were fighters, but they were not fighting with weapons," he said. "They were fighting with their cameras. They were on the battlefield to defend the people by filming the awful crimes (of the Israeli offensive) and broadcasting them to the world."
Mahmoud al-Hams, the AFP photographer, said the building housing the French news agency shook and he could smell fire after it was hit. He said the building, which is part of a commercial mall, has an office of a Hamas-related media outlet for women, which was hit in the strike. Families who had taken refuge in the building from airstrikes in northern Gaza fled after the attack.
Over the weekend, an Israeli missile struck an Al Aqsa office on the top floor of a Gaza City high-rise also being used by other local and foreign news outlets. A second strike hit the Lebanon-based Al Quds TV in a second media center, causing some damage. Al Quds TV is seen as sympathetic to Hamas.
Since seizing control of Gaza in 2007, Hamas has gradually built a sophisticated media operation. During the current offensive, Al Aqsa TV and Radio reporters have closely covered events, often providing the first reports of deaths and injuries that are later confirmed by hospital officials.
Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev alleged that both Al Aqsa and Al Quds "are integral parts of terrorist military organizations."
He said those working for the two outlets "'are not journalists by any meaning of the word."