A massive blast rocked a Gaza City hospital packed with wounded and other Palestinians seeking shelter Tuesday, killing hundreds of people, the Hamas-run Health Ministry said. Hamas blamed an Israeli airstrike, while the Israeli military said the hospital was hit by a rocket misfired by Palestinian militants.
The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 500 people were killed. Video that The Associated Press confirmed was from the hospital showed fire engulfing the building and the hospital’s grounds strewn with torn bodies, many of them young children. Around them in the grass were blankets, school backpacks and other belongings.
Outrage over what many believed was an Israeli strike flared across the region, a day before President Joe Biden was due to arrive to show support for Israel and try to prevent the war from spreading. The carnage unfolded as the U.S. tried to convince Israel to allow the delivery of supplies to desperate civilians, aid groups and hospitals in the tiny Gaza Strip, which has been under a complete siege since Hamas’ deadly rampage in southern Israel last week.
Hamas called Tuesday’s hospital blast “a horrific massacre,” saying it was caused by an Israeli strike.
The Israeli military blamed Islamic Jihad, a smaller, more radical Palestinian militant group that often cooperates with Hamas in their shared struggle against Israel. The military said Islamic Jihad militants had fired a barrage of rockets near the hospital at the time and that “intelligence from multiple sources” indicated it was “responsible for the failed rocket launch that hit the hospital.”
Hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge in al-Ahli and other hospitals in Gaza City in past days, hoping they would be spared bombardment after Israel ordered all residents of the city and surrounding areas to evacuate to the southern Gaza Strip.
Ambulances and private cars rushed some 350 casualties from the al-Ahli blast to Gaza City’s main hospital, al-Shifa, which was already overwhelmed with wounded from other strikes, said its director, Mohammed Abu Selmia. The wounded were laid onto bloody floors, screaming in pain.
“We are squeezing five beds into a single tiny room. We need equipment, we need medicine, we need beds, we need anesthesia, we need everything,” Abu Selmia said, warning that the fuel supply for the hospital’s generators will run out Wednesday. “I think Gaza’s medical sector will collapse within hours.”
Before the al-Alhi Hospital deaths, Israeli strikes on Gaza killed at least 2,778 people and wounded 9,700, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Nearly two-thirds of those killed were children, a ministry official said. Another 1,200 people across Gaza are believed to be buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said.
Hamas’ Oct. 7, attack in southern Israel killed more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and took some 200 captive into Gaza. Hamas militants in Gaza have launched rockets every day since, aiming at cities across Israel.
In protest over the purported airstrike, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas canceled his participation in a meeting with Biden, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egypt’s president set for Wednesday in Amman, Jordan to discuss the war. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority runs parts of the West Bank.
Hundreds of Palestinians flooded the streets of major West Bank cities including Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, where protesters hurled stones at Palestinian security forces who fired back with stun grenades. Others threw stones at Israeli checkpoints, where soldiers killed one Palestinian, West Bank authorities said. Hundreds of people joined protests that erupted in Beirut and Amman, where an angry crowd gathered outside the Israeli Embassy.
Biden’s visit in part aims to prevent the war from sparking a broader regional conflict. Violence flared Tuesday along Israel’s border with Lebanon, where Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants operate and where Israel has evacuated nearby towns.
With tens of thousands of troops massed along the border, Israel has been expected to launch a ground invasion into Gaza, but its plans remained uncertain.
“We are preparing for the next stages of war,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht said. “We haven’t said what they will be. Everybody’s talking about a ground offensive. It might be something different.”