According to the Hamas-run health ministry, a massive explosion at a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday night killed at least 500 people. The blast, which occurred at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, was the deadliest single incident since the war between Israel and Hamas began on October 7. The cause of the explosion remains disputed, with Israel and Hamas blaming each other.
Israel’s Claim: A Misfired Rocket
The Israeli military said the hospital was hit by a rocket fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a militant group allied with Hamas. The military said that it had evidence that a barrage of rockets/missiles was launched by PIJ from Gaza, passing close to the hospital at the time of the blast. The military also said that it had intelligence from multiple sources that PIJ was responsible for the failed rocket launch.
The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, backed this claim and posted a video statement on the social media platform X. He said Israel did not target the hospital and accused PIJ of lying and covering up its crime. He also said Israel was not conducting aerial operations near the hospital during the explosion.
Hamas’s Claim: An Israeli Airstrike
Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, rejected Israel’s claim and said that an Israeli airstrike bombed the hospital. Hamas said it had eyewitnesses and footage showing an Israeli warplane firing two missiles at the hospital. Hamas also said Israel had warned earlier that it would target hospitals and medical facilities in Gaza.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs parts of the occupied West Bank, also accused Israel of a “heinous crime” and called for an international investigation. The PA’s President, Mahmoud Abbas, who had planned to attend a summit with US President Joe Biden and other regional leaders in Jordan on Wednesday, canceled his trip after the attack.
The PIJ, which Israel blamed for the attack, denied involvement and said it had not carried out any activity around Gaza City during the blast. The group said Israel was trying to evade its responsibility and fabricate lies.
The International Response: Condemnation and Calls for Ceasefire
The explosion at the hospital triggered widespread international condemnation and calls for an immediate ceasefire. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, said he was “horrified” by the attack and urged all parties to respect international humanitarian law and protect civilians. He also called for ending the “senseless cycle of bloodshed” in Gaza.
The US President, Joe Biden, who arrived in Israel on Wednesday to show his solidarity with Israel and its security, expressed his “outrage” and “deep sadness” over the attack. He said that he spoke with Netanyahu and Abbas and urged them to work towards de-escalating tensions. He also said that he would work with Egypt and other partners to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said he was “shocked and appalled” by the attack and called for an independent investigation. He also said that the EU would continue to support diplomatic efforts to achieve a ceasefire and a lasting peace.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the attack was “unprecedented in scale” and severely damaged one of the few functioning hospitals in Gaza. The WHO said that 115 health facilities in Gaza had been attacked since October 7, leaving most of the city’s hospitals out of operation. The WHO also called for the immediate protection of health workers and patients and urged Israel to reverse its evacuation orders for 20 hospitals in northern Gaza.
The Regional Response: Anger and Protests
The attack on the hospital also sparked anger and protests across the Muslim world. In Iran, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the UK and French embassies in Tehran and chanted anti-Israeli slogans. Iran’s President, Ebrahim Raisi, announced a “public mourning” day for the victims and blamed Israel and its ally, the US, for the attack.
In Lebanon, Hezbollah, a Shia militant group backed by Iran, called for a “day of rage” against Israel. Hezbollah supporters clashed with security forces outside the US embassy in Beirut, throwing stones and setting fire to a building.
In Jordan, home to millions of Palestinian refugees, protesters tried to storm the Israeli embassy in Amman. Jordanian security forces fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse them.
In Egypt, thousands of people took to the streets in Cairo and other cities to express their solidarity with Gaza. Egypt has been mediating between Israel and Hamas to broker a ceasefire.
The Humanitarian Crisis: Displacement and Desperation
The hospital blast has worsened the already dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, where more than 4,000 people have been killed since October 7. According to UN estimates, more than one million people have been displaced by the Israeli bombardment and have sought shelter in schools, mosques, and other buildings. Many have no access to food, water, electricity, or medical care.
The UN has warned that Gaza is facing a “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis and that its health system is on the verge of collapse. The UN has appealed for $95 million to provide urgent humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The UN has also called for a humanitarian truce to allow aid workers to deliver life-saving supplies and evacuate the wounded.
The hospital blast has added another tragic chapter to the war between Israel and Hamas, the deadliest of five Gaza wars for both sides. The explosion has also raised questions about the accountability and responsibility of the parties involved and the prospects for a lasting peace.