A blast Tuesday at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza killed hundreds of people and overwhelmed medical facilities in the enclave already operating at maximum capacity. The explosion came hours before President Biden was expected to visit Israel in a show of support and had immediate reverberations throughout the Arab world. Here is a look at what transpired.
What exactly happened?
An explosion killed at least 500 people, according to Gaza health authorities, including staff, patients and civilians who had taken refuge inside the hospital following an evacuation order from Israel. The precise death toll was unclear. It also wasn’t immediately clear why the explosion was so deadly.
Ashraf Al Qedra, spokesman for the Palestinian Ministry of Health, said the explosion was a “major blow” to the already strained healthcare system, as Al-Ahli Hospital was one of only about a dozen remaining health facilities in Gaza that was still tending to patients. “Its destruction will make it even more difficult for Palestinians to get the medical care they need,” he said.
He added that Al-Ahli Hospital had been sheltering thousands of people trying to flee Israeli shelling.
Who blames who?
Palestinian officials blamed the blast on an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military said it was caused by a rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant group based in Gaza. The Israeli military said an analysis of its operations systems showed the militant group fired a volley of rockets near the hospital when it was hit. The source of the blast couldn’t yet be independently verified.
What does Israel say caused the explosion?
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said in a briefing early Wednesday morning that no Israeli strike, either by air, land or sea had occurred near the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital at the time of the explosion, and that drone footage, radar information and recording of Gaza militants indicates a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket was responsible.
What do Hamas and Islamic Jihad say?
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, in a speech on Al Jazeera, said Israel and Americans who support Israel were responsible for the massacre at the hospital. The Islamic Jihad movement denied Israel’s allegations that it is responsible for a hospital strike in Gaza.
What do Palestinian officials say?
Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour accused Israel of causing the explosion, calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a liar” for blaming the strike on the group Islamic Jihad. “Now they change the story to try to blame the Palestinians. It is a lie,” Mansour said during a press conference at U.N. headquarters.
What does the fallout look like?
The attack on Al-Ahli Arab Hospital upended diplomatic efforts to free hostages held by Hamas and create safe passage out of Gaza for foreign nationals, as well as years of efforts to build goodwill toward Israel across the Arab world. In Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been pursuing a normalization pact with Israel, a royal adviser said the idea was now dead.
The blast also derailed high-level meetings related to Biden’s scheduled visit to Israel and neighboring Jordan on Wednesday. Jordan canceled a summit with Biden and the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders who had intended to discuss the crisis in Gaza, after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a scheduled meeting with the U.S. president, left Jordan and returned to the West Bank.
European Union leaders, who were meeting on Tuesday when news of the explosion surfaced, said it was out of line with international law, and reasserted the need for European humanitarian aid for Palestinians.
Protesters in Baghdad and Beirut tried to break through the security barriers at the U.S. and French Embassies, complaining about the unconditional support for Israel since the beginning of conflict in Gaza.