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What are Israel, Palestinians and the world saying about the explosion at a Gaza hospital?

Palestinian health officials have said at least 500 people were killed in the blast.

THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY has expressed its outrage and sadness at the strike on a hospital in Gaza last night. 

The explosion at the al-Ahli Hospital in northern Gaza killed at least 500 people, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. The blast has sparked protests across the Middle East and wide-ranging condemnation.

The World Health Organization (WHO) was among those to condemn the deadly strike and demanded the immediate protection of civilians and health care in the strip.

“The hospital was operational, with patients, health- and care-givers, and internally-displaced people sheltering there. Early reports indicate hundreds of fatalities and injuries,” the UN health agency said.

Daylight pictures from the scene today have focused on fire damage at a car park at the hospital.

Israel and Palestine have traded blame for the strike. 

palestinians-check-the-place-of-the-explosion-at-al-ahli-hospital-in-gaza-city-wednesday-oct-18-2023-the-hamas-run-health-ministry-says-an-israeli-airstrike-caused-the-explosion-that-killed-hund Palestinians check the site of the explosion at al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

What is Israel saying?

Israeli authorities said the hospital was hit by a stray rocket fired by the Islamic Jihad militant group.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, after the attack, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “An analysis of IDF (Israel Defense Forces) operational systems indicates that a barrage of rockets was fired by terrorists in Gaza, passing in close proximity to the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza at the time it was hit.

“Intelligence from multiple sources we have in our hands indicates that Islamic Jihad is responsible for the failed rocket launch which hit the hospital in Gaza,” he said.

At a press conference this morning, the Israeli army said it had “evidence” that militants were responsible for the blast.

“The evidence — which we are sharing with you all — confirms that the explosion at the hospital in Gaza was caused by an Islamic Jihad rocket that misfired,” military spokesman Daniel Hagari told a press conference in Tel Aviv.

“There was no IDF fire by land, sea or air that hit the hospital,” he said, adding that there was damage in the facility’s parking lot

“Our radar system tracked missiles fired by terrorists in Gaza at the time of the explosion and the trajectory analysis of the rockets shows the rockets were fired in close proximity to the hospital.”

The IDF has released satellite imagery of the area around the hospital before and after the blast.

Hagari has also shared a recording of what he claims is a conversation between Hamas operatives discussing the explosion, which was intercepted by Israel.

In the recording, two people can be heard saying that a rocket shot by Palestinian Islamic Jihad from a cemetery behind the hospital misfired and fell on it. 

What is the Palestinian side saying?

According to Al Jazeera, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who governs the West Bank and not Hamas-controlled Gaza, has said Israel crossed “all red lines” by targeting the hospital, calling the attack a “hideous war massacre” that cannot be tolerated.

Abbas also withdrew from a previously scheduled meeting with US President Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters at a United Nations meeting, Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian envoy to the UN, called Netanyahu a “liar” and said his digital spokesperson had tweeted that Israel was responsible for the attack, before deleting the post.

Hananya Naftali, a media spokesperson for Israel, had tweeted that Israel struck “a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza”. 

In a subsequent tweet, Naftali said he had shared a Reuters report about the bombing at the hospital in Gaza “which falsely stated Israel struck the hospital”.

“I mistakenly shared this information in a since deleted post in which I referenced Hamas’ routine use of hospitals to store weapons caches and conduct terrorist activity. I apologize for this error. As the IDF does not bomb hospitals, I assumed Israel was targeting one of the Hamas bases in Gaza,” he said.

Hamas called the strike “a horrific massacre” and pinned the blame on Israel. 

Palestinian Islamic Jihad has described as “lies” Israel’s accusations that it was responsible for the strike.

“The Zionist enemy is trying hard to evade its responsibility for the brutal massacre he committed by bombing the Baptist Arab National Hospital in Gaza through his usual fabrication of lies, and through pointing the finger of blame at the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine,” it said in a statement.

“We therefore affirm that the accusations put forward by the enemy are false and baseless,” it added.

According to the statement, the group claimed the hospital had been ordered to evacuate by Israel under threat of bombardment, and it was a bomb dropped by an Israeli army plane that caused the tragedy.

It said the hospital had “received public notice made global of evacuation under threat of bombing”.

Speaking last night, Daoud Shehab, a spokesman for Islamic Jihad, denied the group was responsible.

He told Reuters: “This is a lie and fabrication, it is completely incorrect. The occupation is trying to cover for the horrifying crime and massacre they committed against civilians.”

What are others saying?

Nations in the Middle East which have in recent years established better relations with Israel have blamed it for the blast.

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which both established ties with Israel in the Abraham Accords of 2020, condemned the “Israeli” attack which came as Israel lays siege to Gaza.

“The United Arab Emirates strongly condemns the Israeli attack… resulting in the death and injury of hundreds of people,” the UAE’s official WAM news agency said early today.

Bahrain’s foreign ministry “expressed the Kingdom of Bahrain’s condemnation and strong denunciation of the Israeli bombing”, the Bahrain News Agency said.

Morocco, another country that recognised Israel in 2020, also blamed it for the strike, as did Egypt, which became the first Arab country to normalise relations in 1979.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi condemned in the strongest terms “the Israeli bombing” of the Ahli Arab hospital, which led to “the deaths of hundreds of innocent victims” among the Palestinian citizens in Gaza.

He called the “deliberate bombing” a “clear violation of international law”.

Saudi Arabia, which has ended talks on potential ties with Israel since the conflict flared, called the blast a “heinous crime committed by the Israeli occupation forces”.

Jordan said Israel “bears responsibility for this grave incident” while Qatar, which has close ties to Hamas, slammed the “brutal massacre”.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, also blaming Israel, called it “a war crime, a crime against humanity, and organised state terrorism”.

Gulf Cooperation Council secretary general Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi said it was “glaring evidence of the serious violations by the Israeli occupation forces”.

Biden, who has held a meeting with Netanyahu in Israel today, has said that the explosion “appears as though it was done by the other team”, not the Israeli Defence Forces.

The US President was originally scheduled to visit Jordan as well, but his meetings with Arab leaders were called off as he was leaving Washington, costing him an opportunity for the face-to-face conversations he views as crucial.

European leaders have also condemned the attack without apportioning blame.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she was saddened by the strike and the death toll.

“There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of medical staff and civilians,” she said. “All the facts have to be established and those responsible must be held accountable.”

French President Emmanuel Macron said: “Nothing can justify striking a hospital. Nothing can justify targeting civilians.

“France condemns the attack on the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, which made so many Palestinian victims. Our thoughts are with them. All the light must be shed on the circumstances,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who was in Israel when the strike occurred, said he was “horrified” by the images of the explosion. 

“Innocent civilians were injured and killed. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims,” he said.

“A thorough investigation of the incident is imperative.”

With reporting from © AFP 2023 

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