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Gaza team evacuates, responds with outstanding coverage as airstrike destroys AP’s building

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Last Saturday afternoon, the AP’s staff in the Gaza Strip received an urgent call: They had less than an hour to evacuate the office before the Israeli military planned to destroy the entire building. The call came just a day after correspondent Fares Akram published a first person diary piece describing how his family farm had been bombed: “The Associated Press office is the only place in Gaza City I feel somewhat safe,” he wrote.

In minutes,that feeling was shattered. Fares and his colleagues scrambled to pack up whatever equipment and belongings they could carry. Even as they rushed to safety, they continued reporting the news. Cairo-based senior producer Najib Jobain turned his cell phone toward his colleagues and captured video of the frantic evacuation. Gaza senior producer Wafaa Shurafa immediately set up a live shot on a neighboring building and photographer Hatem Moussa,who had been badly wounded in fighting in 2014, found a position nearby.

Moments later, an Israeli airstrike flattened the 12-story building, destroying a bureau that had served as a second home and sanctuary in one of the world’s most challenging war zones. Jobain’s camera captured the jaw-dropping images of the building collapsing into a pile of dust, while Moussa’s lens caught an image of an Israeli missile slamming into the building. Freelancer Mohammed Jahjouh had already filmed a dramatic moment with the building’s owner unsuccessfully pleading with the army in a phone call to delay the airstrike; he then captured the building’s destruction from the street, joined by still photographer Khalil Hamra.

By the end of the day,Jobain had set up a new live rooftop position on a neighboring building to capture images of Israeli airstrikes and Palestinian rocket launches. The following day, plans were in place to set up a temporary bureau in a hotel.

Akram wrote another first-person account after Saturday’s airstrike. “Now, my Gaza City office — the place that I thought was sacrosanct and would go untargeted because both AP and al-Jazeera’s offices were located on its top floors — is a pile of rubble and girders and dust.”

The destruction of the building capped a difficult week in which Gaza came under intense Israeli aerial bombing and thousands of rockets were launched into Israel. AP’s staff on both sides of the conflict rose to the occasion presenting fast,accurate stories,vivid photography,gripping video. And in a textbook example rock-solid news judgment,AP resisted picking up a false report that Israel had launched a ground invasion of Gaza — that was a joint decision between regional news director Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Fared Akram in Gaza.

For extreme dedication in the most difficult of circumstances,and their commitment to covering the conflict even at great personal risk,the Gaza team of Fares Akram,Najib Jobain,Rashed Rashid,Khalil Hamra,Hatem Moussa,Adel Hana, Mohammed Jahjouh and Wafaa Shurafa is the unanimous pick for Best of the Week honors.

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