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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Biden heads to Israel after Gaza hospital strike kills hundreds

Biden heads to Israel after Gaza hospital strike kills hundreds
US President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on 17 October 2023. He is travelling to Israel owing to the war between Hamas and Israel. (Photo : EPA-EFE / Samuel Corum / Pool)

The hospital strike deepened tensions in the Middle East and raises the stakes for US President Joe Biden as he flies to Israel on Wednesday to signal support for its war against Hamas.

Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit the hospital, with the Palestinian Authority’s health minister accusing Israel of causing a “massacre”. Israel blamed the blast at Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital on a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which denied responsibility.

Reuters could not independently verify the claims around the incident, which has inflamed a region already in crisis since Hamas carried out a 7 October cross-border rampage against communities in southern Israel in which at least 1,300 people died.

Palestinian ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra said rescuers were still pulling bodies from the rubble.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Air strike on Gaza hospital kills hundreds, local authorities say

Al Jazeera carried footage showing a frantic scene as rescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors. Rescuers and civilians were shown carrying away at least four victims in body bags. A Gaza civil defence chief gave a death toll of 300, while health ministry sources put it at 500.

Biden’s complex diplomatic mission to the Middle East was supposed to calm the region and shore up humanitarian efforts for Gaza, but after the strike, Jordan cancelled a planned summit with the US president, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Abbas also cancelled plans to meet Biden, as Palestinian security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse anti-government protesters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah amid boiling popular anger.

He’ll be asking some tough questions, he’ll be asking them as a true friend of Israel, but he’ll be asking some questions of them.

Protests also took place at Israel’s embassies in Turkey and Jordan and near the US embassy in Lebanon, where security forces fired tear gas towards demonstrators.

Before the hospital strike, health authorities in Gaza said at least 3,000 people had died in Israel’s 11-day bombardment that began after the Hamas assault, which caught Israel by surprise and led to nearly 200 people being taken to Gaza as hostages.

Humanitarian aid

The Israeli military urged Gaza City residents to relocate southward on Wednesday, saying there was a “humanitarian zone” with aid available in Al-Mawasi, 28km down the coast of the Palestinian enclave.

“The IDF calls on #GazaCity residents to evacuate south for their protection,” the military said on social media.

Speaking to reporters as Biden flew to Tel Aviv, White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said the president would put “tough questions” to Israeli leaders but did not give details.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

Biden will meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli war cabinet seeking to get a sense of Israel’s plans and aims, Kirby said. He also aims to get humanitarian aid into Gaza, where millions of Palestinians are surviving with scant food, fuel and water owing to Israel’s siege.

“He’ll be asking some tough questions, he’ll be asking them as a friend, as a true friend of Israel, but he’ll be asking some questions of them,” Kirby said.

It was unclear what Biden could accomplish during his visit. Kirby said the president planned to speak with Abbas and Sisi on his way back to Washington.

“This sort of murky but horrific event makes diplomacy harder and increases escalation risks,” said Richard Gowan, the United Nations director at the International Crisis Group.

Biden has previously said the US does not want the conflict to flare up into a wider war.

Iran, which supports Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Lebanon-based Islamist group Hezbollah, has warned Israel of escalation if it failed to end aggressions against Palestinians.

The US State Department told Americans not to travel to Lebanon after exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon’s south.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he was “horrified” by hundreds of people killed in Tuesday’s strike on the hospital.

Guterres appealed to Hamas for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages, and to Israel to allow immediate and unrestricted access to humanitarian aid for Gaza. Reuters/DM

(Reporting By Nidal Mughrabi in Gaza and by Steve Holland aboard Air Force One; Additional reporting by Costas Pitas, Rami Ayyub and Jeff Mason; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Stephen Coates; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Lincoln Feast)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Well the Israelis have proved that it was an Islamic Jihad rocket, obviously fired at Israel, that went wrong and ignited fuel and ammunition close by – another Hamas and Islamic Jihad deliberate and cowardly specialty in hiding within civilian structures. This is nothing but a deliberate attempt by the vile Iran and its minions to scupper any peace deal, embarrass Biden on his visit to the region and inflame the Muslim world. These deranged monsters don’t give a damn about their own people and will murder/massacre them just as they would Israelis and anyone else opposed to them.

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