.Deadly blast comes hours before President Biden is scheduled to arrive in Israel in a show of support.
Palestinian health officials said more than 500 people were killed in an Israeli airstrike on a Gaza hospital in one of the deadliest single incidents of violence in the strip—hours before President Biden was expected to visit Israel in a show of support.
The attack on Al-Ahli Arab Hospital—founded in the 1880s by Anglican missionaries and funded largely by the European Union and Episcopal Church, according to a reverend there—occurred as aid workers already warned of a looming humanitarian collapse in Gaza.
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said he is looking into what happened at the hospital. The explosion comes during a week of escalating Israeli bombing in Gaza, following Hamas’s attacks on Israel on Oct. 7.
Footage aired by Al Jazeera showed rescue workers, medical staff and civilians responding to the strike on Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, stepping over bodies on the ground as they carried out other bodies in blankets and white plastic sheets. Burnt out cars sat in the area, blood pooled among the rubble and dazed patients wandered into the street, footage shows.
“The massacre at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital is unprecedented in our history,” said Palestinian Authority Civil Defense Spokesman Mahmoud Basal. “While we’ve witnessed tragedies in past wars and days, but what took place tonight is tantamount to a genocide.”
Israel had called for the evacuation of more than 20 hospitals in northern Gaza, which the World Health Organization said would worsen the humanitarian catastrophe there. Hagari, the Israeli military spokesman, said there are many false reports by Hamas. “Once we study the details, we will tell the public the truth,” he said in a news conference.
The Israeli military said earlier Tuesday that it had attacked 200 targets in Gaza.
The Biden administration is seeking to achieve a complicated set of goals after Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that controls Gaza, struck Israel more than a week ago in one of the most devastating attacks in the country’s history.
The U.S. wants to ensure aid enters Gaza and Americans and other foreigners can leave. It also wants to prevent the conflict in Gaza from spiraling into a broader conflagration involving Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Iran, which both support Hamas, as well as Syria, where Hezbollah is also present.
While Washington has expressed unconditional solidarity with Israel, it has also signaled that it wants to minimize civilian casualties from the bombing of targets in Gaza and the ground incursion that is expected to follow.
In a briefing Tuesday morning, Israeli military spokesman Richard Hecht said Israel hadn’t yet committed to a ground invasion of Gaza, though the military was preparing for one.
Israel’s pounding of targets in Gaza is meant to pave the way for such an incursion, but experts still think fighting in the strip’s densely populated cities, under which Hamas has dug an extensive network of tunnels, could end up being very costly for Israeli soldiers and Palestinian civilians alike.
Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said Tuesday that Israel told the U.S. it would only agree to create safe zones for Gazans in the southern portion of the enclave, and any effort to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza must also include the issue of freeing Hamas’s hostages.
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