The United States says intelligence suggests Israel is “not responsible” for a deadly explosion at a Gaza hospital, with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday echoing Israel’s explanation that the blast was likely caused by an “errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.”
Hundreds of people were likely killed in Tuesday’s blast at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in the center of Gaza City, where thousands were sheltering, the Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement.
Palestinian officials have blamed Israeli airstrikes for the massive loss of life, but Israel has insisted it was not responsible.
On Wednesday, the US National Security Council (NSC) said it had analyzed overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information. It found that “Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” NSC spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement.
Among the evidence that’s been gathered is a blast analysis that suggests it was a ground explosion rather than an airstrike that hit the hospital, one of the sources said. There was no singular crater suggesting there was a bomb, but there was extensive fire damage and scattered debris that is consistent with an explosion starting from the ground level, according to the source.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) had previously accused Palestinian Islamic Jihad of causing the explosion when one of its rockets launched at Israel misfired. In a televised news conference, the IDF said it had intelligence of “communications between terrorists” of rockets misfiring, which included mention of the hospital.
Islamic Jihad denied Israel’s assertions describing them as “false and baseless” and claimed it does not use public facilities such as hospitals for military purposes, according to a statement Wednesday.
The NSC assessment came as Biden made a wartime visit to Tel Aviv in his most forceful public show of support for Israel since the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks, in which the Islamist militant group killed at least 1,400 people and took more than 150 hostages, including children and the elderly.
Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a meeting on Wednesday that the hospital attack “appears as though it was done by the other team, not you.”
The competing narratives on what caused the blast comes at a dangerous new phase in Israel’s war with Hamas, which threatens to spill over regionally as growing anger saw protests erupt across the Middle East on Wednesday.
It has also added to fears that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is spiraling “out of control.”
‘Unparalleled and indescribable’
Dr. Ashraf Al-Qudra, a spokesperson for the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Hamas-controlled Gaza, described “unparalleled and indescribable” scenes after the blast.
“Ambulance crews are still removing body parts as most of the victims are children and women,” Al-Qudra said. “Doctors were performing surgeries on the ground and in the corridors, some of them without anesthesia.”
“If you look over there on the roads, there are body parts all over it, heads and hands of people, hands and brains of children,” said Adnan, who would give only his first name. “It is truly indescribable.”
In pictures: The deadly clashes in Israel and Gaza
Women were crying out and terrified children covered in black dust huddled together on the hospital floor, the video showed.
The Palestinian Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said in a statement on Wednesday that at least 471 people died and more than 300 were injured after the explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital.
Anger and protest spread
The blast has added fuel to rising anger in the region over the situation in Gaza.
Protests condemning the hospital explosion have erupted in multiple cities across the Middle East and North Africa, including in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Tunisia. Protests also rocked the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah as demonstrators clashed with Palestinian security forces.
There were also protests in Baghdad on Tuesday, where hundreds of protesters attempted to cross a bridge leading to the area that houses the US Embassy. The demonstrators, who were chanting anti-Israel slogans, were stopped by security forces.
Protests continued on Wednesday when pro-Palestinian demonstrators had skirmishes with police near the US Embassy. Police fired tear gas and used water cannons against the protesters, according to local media and video footage released by AFP.
The US Embassy in Beirut advised Americans to avoid the Awkar area due to the protests, in a security alert on Wednesday.
Antisemitic attacks have also been on the rise. In Germany, security services are investigating after two Molotov cocktails were thrown in the direction of a Berlin synagogue in the early hours of Wednesday.
The fallout from the blast threatens to derail US diplomatic efforts to ease the humanitarian suffering in Gaza, where concerns are mounting over Israel’s deprivation of food, fuel and electricity to the enclave.
More than a week of Israeli bombardment has killed at least 3,478 people and injured 12,500 in Gaza, according to Palestinian authorities.
Jordan canceled a planned Wednesday summit between Biden and the leaders of Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas pulled out of the meeting earlier Tuesday in the immediate aftermath of the explosion.
Several nations, including Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, have released statements condemning Israel following the explosion.
Nowhere is safe
The hospital tragedy comes as health services in Gaza are on the brink, with no fuel to run electricity or pump water for life-saving critical functions. UN agencies have warned that stores are less than a week away from running out of food stocks and that Gaza’s last seawater desalination plant had shut down, bringing the risk of further deaths, dehydration and waterborne diseases.
While the IDF has said it does not target hospitals, the UN and Doctors Without Borders say Israeli airstrikes have struck medical facilities, including hospitals and ambulances.
Conditions are dire for the 2.2 million people caught in the escalating crisis and now trapped in Gaza and those on the ground warn that nowhere is safe from relentless Israeli airstrikes and the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation.
More than one million people have been displaced in the Gaza Strip, including 600,000 people in northern Gaza, according to a statement from the Hamas-run government there.
Gazan authorities have called for the return of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which ended its services in the northern part of the enclave, according to a statement.
On Tuesday, UNRWA released a status report stating that “an unknown number” of displaced people “remain in UNRWA schools in the north” but said it was “no longer able to assist or protect” them.
The report added that nearly 400,000 displaced people were sheltering in UNRWA installations “in the Middle Area, Khan Younis and Rafah.” The organization’s logistics base in Rafah was hosting nearly 8,000 people and, “the numbers continue to increase,” the report said.
Urgent calls for help are mounting and diplomatic efforts to secure a humanitarian corridor out of Gaza have ramped up in recent days.
Following Biden’s remarks in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu’s office said Israel will not block humanitarian aid going into Gaza from Egypt but it won’t not allow supplies into Gaza from its own territory until Hamas releases all hostages.
“In light of President Biden’s demand, Israel will not block humanitarian aid deliveries, as long as they consist water, food, and drugs for the civilian population in the southern Gaza Strip … and as long as the aid doesn’t reach Hamas,” the statement said.
The Rafah border crossing – the only entry point in and out of Gaza that Israel does not control – has remained extremely dangerous since the outbreak of hostilities.
He added that the crossing was bombed four times in the past few days.
The situation in Gaza is now spiraling “out of control,” World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Wednesday.
Tedros said that WHO’s supplies have been stuck at the border for four days, adding “every second we wait to get medical aid in, we lose lives.”