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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS

Arriving in Israel, Biden says Gaza hospital blast appears to have been caused by ‘the other team’

Arriving in Israel, Biden says Gaza hospital blast appears to have been caused by ‘the other team’
US President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a joint press conference in Tel Aviv on 18 October 2023. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Miriam Alster / Pool)

US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel on Wednesday pledging solidarity in its war against Hamas and saying that a blast that killed huge numbers of Palestinians at a Gaza hospital appeared to have been caused not by Israel but by its foes.

The fireball that engulfed the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital on Tuesday evening wrecked White House plans for Biden’s emergency diplomatic mission to the Middle East, with Arab leaders calling off their planned summit with him.

Palestinian officials blamed an Israeli air strike for the blast, which they said had killed as many as 500 people. Israel said the blast was caused by a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group, which denied blame.

Speaking alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden said: “I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion of the hospital in Gaza yesterday, and based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.

“But there’s a lot of people out there not sure, so we’ve got a lot, we’ve got to overcome a lot of things.

“The world is looking. Israel has a value set like the United States does, and other democracies, and they are looking to see what we are going to do.”

Biden’s trip to the Middle East was designed to calm the region, even as he demonstrated US support for its ally Israel, which has vowed to annihilate the Hamas movement whose fighters killed 1,400 Israelis in a rampage on 7 October.

But after the hospital blast, Jordan cancelled the second half of Biden’s itinerary: a planned summit in Amman with the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

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

Netanyahu thanked Biden for his “unequivocal support”. President Isaac Herzog’s office said the head of state had told Biden: “God bless you for protecting the nation of Israel.”

At a later meeting, Netanyahu promised: “Israel will do everything it can to keep civilians out of harm’s way.” Biden said the US would “continue to have Israel’s back as you work to defend your people”.

‘Help us, help us!’

The accounts of destruction at the hospital were horrific even by the standards of the past 12 days, which have confronted the world with relentless images, first of Israelis slaughtered in their homes and then of Palestinian families buried under rubble from Israel’s retaliatory strikes.

Rescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors. A Gaza civil defence chief gave a death toll of 300, while the health ministry put it at 471, though Israel disputed those figures. Palestinian ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra said rescuers were still recovering bodies.

“People came running into the surgery department screaming, ‘Help us, help us, there are people killed and wounded inside the hospital!’” said Dr Fadel Naim, head of the hospital’s orthopaedic surgery department.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Middle East Crisis News Hub

“The hospital was full of dead and wounded, dismembered bodies, and dead,” he told Reuters. “We tried to save whoever could be saved but the number was too big for the hospital team to be able to save… We saw them alive but we couldn’t help them and they were martyred.”

Israel later released drone footage of the scene of the explosion, which it said showed it was not responsible because there was no impact crater from any missile or bomb.

The Israeli military published what it said was an audio recording of “communication between terrorists talking about rockets misfiring”.

Palestinians were convinced the explosion was an Israeli attack, with no warning given for civilians to leave a hospital that was being used as a shelter by thousands of Gazans already made homeless by Israeli bombing.

“This place created a safe haven for women and children, those who escaped the Israeli bombing,” another doctor at the hospital, Ibrahim Al-Naqa, said. “We don’t know what the shell is called but we saw the results of it when it targeted children and ripped their bodies into pieces.”

‘Cool heads’

After Biden’s remarks that Israel was not to blame, other Western leaders also called for caution.

“Last night, too many jumped to conclusions around the tragic loss of life at Al Ahli hospital,” Britain’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, posted on X. “Getting this wrong would put even more lives at risk. Wait for the facts, report them clearly and accurately. Cool heads must prevail.”

World leaders from UN secretary-general António Guterres to Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the blast in statements that nevertheless avoided addressing who was to blame.

The blast unleashed new fury across the Middle East.

Palestinian security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse anti-government protesters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, one of the Arab leaders who cancelled a meeting with Biden.

The US State Department issued a new warning to Americans not to travel to Lebanon, where border clashes between the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and Israel over the past week have been the deadliest since the last all-out war in 2006.

Biden has strongly backed Israel following the 7 October attacks. But he is under intense pressure to win a clear Israeli commitment to alleviate the plight of civilians in the Gaza Strip, where 2.3 million Palestinians are under total siege, with no access to food, fuel, water or medical supplies.

The Israeli military announced on Wednesday that humanitarian aid would be made available in a “humanitarian zone” in Al-Mawasi on the south of the Gaza Strip coast near the Egyptian border. It did not spell out how aid would get there. Reuters/DM

(Reporting By Nidal Mughrabi in Gaza, Steve Holland aboard Air Force One, and Jerusalem Bureau; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    If that is the case, then Hamas are evil. Using their own people’s lives foment war, and too cowardly to admit it.

  • Richard Bryant says:

    It’s so difficult to back any side when missiles are aimed at places with innocent people. This incredibly callous attack seems to have become a case of massive exaggeration and theatre, and therefore makes one doubt anything coming from the place of the attack.

    Pictures from the scene show the blast was not on the hospital building but in the parking lot. The impact of the explosion, the burning of cars and the resulting shrapnel would have killed and maimed anyone within a short distance of the impact. But the size of the crater was small??? Knee deep and about a few meters round.

    No ways this could have killed hundreds unless there had been a large gathering of people standing in the parking lot. Then pictures taken from inside hospital corridors showing dead bodies simply doesn’t add up. I would hate to think that bodies were taken into the hospital for the photos and effect. But it is starting to look like this.

    • Ben Harper says:

      The “crater” was smaller than the average Gauteng pothole, barely broke the surface and easily traversed in an old Datsun bakkie. The is also no photos anywhere of the hospital destruction, largely because the hospital was in fact unscathed and there are no such photos in existence. The only photos available are of a few burnt out cars in the car park. Now claiming this Israeli “strike” targeted the hospital and killed more than 500 has backfired and just proven Hamas, Palestinians and the anti West brigade to be out and out liars… as usual.

  • Johan Buys says:

    This quote “ Israel has a value set like the United States does, and other democracies, and they are looking to see what we are going to do” is why old politicians should not run the by far most powerful nation on earth.

    Israel’s government and call it middle America share zero common values. Hamas are terrorists, no question, shoot every one you see, I would too. But what they just did was to perfectly predict what Israel’s response would be.

    Another quarter century of mindless bloodshed of innocents both sides of a fence.

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