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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 18 OCTOBER 2023

Air strike on hospital kills hundreds, say Gaza officials; US puts more troops on alert for potential deployment

Air strike on hospital kills hundreds, say Gaza officials; US puts more troops on alert for potential deployment
Palestinians in Nablus on the West Bank protest against an air strike on a hospital in Gaza on 17 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Alaa Badarneh)

Hundreds of people were killed in an Israeli air strike on a Gaza hospital, according to local officials. The US put more troops on alert for potential deployment in the Middle East, as President Joe Biden prepared to depart for Israel later on Tuesday.

Iran-backed Hezbollah said five of its fighters were killed after the group launched attacks against several Israeli targets near the border with Lebanon. The Israeli military said it shelled Hezbollah positions and reported gunfire at army posts.

Authorities were working to allow civilians to exit Gaza through a crossing with Egypt. Israel’s military struck the southern part of the territory after ordering people to seek refuge there, as it readies a potential ground invasion in response to the 7 October attack by Hamas, which is designated a terrorist organisation by the US and European Union.

Latest developments

Gaza officials say hundreds killed in hospital strike 

Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in an Israeli airstrike that hit a Gaza City hospital, according to officials in the territory, in what would make it the deadliest bombing since 7 October. Israeli officials said the blast was caused by a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group that malfunctioned after launching.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

Officials at the Gaza Health Ministry said at least 200 people were killed, and a spokesman for the ministry told Al Jazeera the casualty toll may be 500.

The Anglican-run Al-Ahli Arab Hospital was housing thousands of displaced Palestinians who fled the Israeli bombing in east Gaza City. Hamas said it fired a long-range rocket toward Israel’s north in response to the bombing at the hospital.

UN chief Guterres heads to Egypt for aid talks 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres will travel to Egypt to meet senior leaders as the world body looks to get vital supplies into the Gaza Strip. “In order to move humanitarian aid through Gaza, we need safe passage,” his spokesperson said. “That will be part of the secretary-general’s discussions.”

The UN Security Council late on Monday rejected a draft resolution led by Russia, which would have called for a ceasefire and the release of hostages, but was criticised for failing to clearly condemn Hamas. Five of 15 council members voted for the proposal.

Fitch places Israel on rating watch over conflict 

Israel’s issuer rating for long-term debt was placed on Rating Watch Negative by Fitch, signalling a possible cut in the nation’s A+ credit grade.

Fitch said it was unlikely that “a relatively short conflict largely confined to Gaza” would affect Israel’s rating, but it cited heightened risks of a wider or more prolonged war that could result in “significant additional military spending” as well as damage to infrastructure, putting pressure on credit metrics.

US puts 2,000 troops on alert, extends carrier deployment 

The US put 2,000 troops on heightened alert and extended the deployment of an aircraft carrier in the Middle East, the Pentagon said, as it builds forces in the region in what officials say is a bid to deter other countries from widening the war.

The US is also sending an amphibious task force of more than 4,000 sailors and Marines toward Israel, where they’ll be positioned aboard warships in case the conflict with Hamas expands, the Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter. The growing US presence in the eastern Mediterranean will include two aircraft carriers and their escort ships.

Scholz pledges ‘unwavering support’ during Tel Aviv visit

Chancellor Olaf Scholz reiterated Germany’s unwavering support for Israel at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following talks in Tel Aviv.

Scholz said the two leaders had discussed “improved humanitarian access” to Gaza and pledged that his government would work “to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population”. The German leader will travel on to Egypt for a meeting with President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi on Wednesday.

Israel in talks with Musk’s Starlink

Israel said on Tuesday it was in talks with Elon Musk’s SpaceX to set up a Starlink satellite network to bolster wartime communications ahead of an expected ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

The Communications Ministry said the network would allow Israeli towns near the frontlines to have continuous internet service. Israel was also weighing a possible cut-off of all internet and phone services in Gaza, the spokesperson said.

Oil steadies, shekel extends slump

Oil steadied as the US intensified diplomatic efforts to contain the crisis in Gaza. The dollar strengthened, while Israel’s shekel remained under pressure as investors weighed the latest efforts to contain the war.

Some of the region’s other asset classes were drawing back investors.

Biden to attend Jordan summit

Jordan’s King Abdullah was to host a four-way summit in Amman on Wednesday with Biden, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the developments in Gaza, Jordan’s Royal Hashemite Court said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Abdullah warned German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Monday that thousands of innocent Palestinians were at risk if the war didn’t end.

Israel says it’s working to allow civilian exit through Rafah

Mark Regev, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Israel was working with international stakeholders to allow civilians to leave Gaza through the Rafah crossing that connects the territory with Egypt. He didn’t elaborate on whether all civilians would be allowed out or only foreign nationals.

The opening of Rafah “was supposed to happen yesterday. We worked with relevant parties to make that happen yesterday. But unfortunately, Hamas prevented that from happening and they closed their side of the [crossing],” Regev told Bloomberg Radio.

Aid trucks held up near Egypt-Gaza crossing

A convoy of humanitarian aid was on Tuesday still unable to enter Gaza, Khaled Zayed, chair of the Red Crescent in Egypt’s North Sinai, told Al-Arabiya. The TV channel aired footage of dozens of trucks backed up near the Rafah border.

Mark Regev earlier told Times Radio in the UK that the crossing would open to allow foreign nationals to leave, with Israel seeking guarantees incoming aid wouldn’t be commandeered to support Hamas.

Israel strikes in south Gaza, says AP 

Palestinians said there had been heavy Israeli bombing in southern Gaza, the part of the besieged territory where Israel had told civilians to seek refuge, the Associated Press reported.

Israeli bombs struck sites west and southeast of Khan Younis and west of Rafah, the crossing to Egypt where thousands of people had massed to try to leave Gaza, the agency said, citing local reports. DM

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Samuel Ginsberg says:

    DM, to claim that it was an airstrike when it might well have been a hit from a Hamas rocket is poor reporting.

  • Kirsten du Toit says:

    The information in this article has been proven to be terrorist propaganda. Why is this article still up on your site DM? It is irresponsible and incendiary. Please fact check in future DM – before stirring up hatred and violent protests. TY.

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