Updated Oct 17, 2023 - World

Gaza hospital blast kills hundreds, Palestinian officials say

Scores of injured people are being taken to Al-Shifa Hospital following Israeli airstrike on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on October 17, 2023

Injured people are being taken to Al-Shifa Hospital following strike on al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on Oct. 17. Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images

Hundreds of people were killed in a strike on the al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City late Tuesday local time, according to the enclave's Ministry of Health.

The big picture: Palestinian officials said the Israeli military was behind the strike, while Israel denied involvement and blamed the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Many people had been sheltering or receiving treatment in the hospital when the strike hit, the Hamas government said.

  • "We were operating in the hospital, there was a strong explosion, and the ceiling fell on the operating room. This is a massacre," Dr. Ghassan Abu Sittah, an MSF doctor in Gaza who was at Ahli Arab Hospital during the attack said in a statement.
  • A Palestinian Civil Defense official told Al Jazeera that the scenes from the attack are "indescribable."
  • "What happened was a major massacre in every sense of the word, which is genocide against our people, and the world must take action," spokesperson Major Mahmoud Basal said.

The IDF said in a statement that an analysis "an operational systems indicates that a barrage of rockets was fired by terrorists in Gaza, passing in close proximity to the Al Ahli hospital in Gaza at the time it was hit."

  • "Intelligence from multiple sources we have in our hands indicates that Islamic Jihad is responsible for the failed rocket launch which hit the hospital in Gaza," the statement added.
  • Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that "the entire world needs to know — the barbaric terrorists in Gaza are the ones who attacked the hospital and not the IDF. Those who killed our children are killing their own children."
  • The PIJ denied the Israeli allegation.
  • Hamas leader Ismail Haniya said the "hospital massacre" was "a turning point" and called the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank to confront Israeli soldiers and settlers.

The big picture: The attack happened as Israel continued its heavy bombardment of the enclave following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack.

  • On Friday, Israel ordered more than 1 million Palestinians living in Gaza to evacuate to the southern part of the enclave — a move hospital workers and many Palestinians said was impossible given ongoing strikes, worsening humanitarian and health care crises, and the limited shelter space in the tiny enclave, which is about the size of Detroit.

What they're saying: The World Health Organization condemned Tuesday's strike in Gaza City hospital saying it "was operational, with patients, health and caregivers, and internally displaced people sheltering there."

  • "WHO calls for the immediate active protection of civilians and health care," the UN health body said. "Evacuation orders must be reversed. International humanitarian law must be abided by, which means health care must be actively protected and never targeted."

Several Arab countries immediately condemned the strike.

  • "The expansion of Israeli attacks over the Gaza Strip to include hospitals, schools, and other population centers is a dangerous escalation," the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.
  • Russia and the United Arab Emirates have requested an emergency UN Security Council meeting be held on Wednesday about the strike that hit the Gaza hospital, Russia and UAE missions to the UN said.
  • Jordan canceled Wednesday's planned summit between President Biden, King Abdullah II, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

President Biden said in a statement he was "outraged and deeply saddened" by the hospital blast and loss of life.

  • Biden said he spoke to King Abdullah II and Netanyahu and directed his national security team to "continue gathering information about what exactly happened."
  • The "U.S. stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy," he added.

What to watch: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was in Jordan ahead of his meeting with Biden, is returning to Ramallah to convene an emergency meeting of Palestinian leadership.

  • "The Hospital massacre cannot be tolerated by sensibility or the morals of nations, and what is taking place is genocide," senior Abbas adviser Hussein al-Sheikh said on social media.
  • "We call on the international community to intervene immediately to stop this massacre. Silence and bias are no longer acceptable," he added.
  • Protesters are rallying in Ramallah and other cities in the occupied West Bank, with anger growing at the Palestinian Authority.

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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