GAZA — A Gaza health ministry spokesman said hundreds were killed in a blast at a Gaza City hospital on Tuesday (Oct 17) that Israeli and Palestinian officials blamed on each other and that ignited protests in the West Bank and around the Middle East.
Health authorities in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip said an Israeli air strike caused the blast while Israel’s military attributed it to a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group.
The health ministry spokesman, Ashraf Al-Qudra, said early on Wednesday that hundreds were killed and rescue workers were still removing bodies from the rubble. In the first hours after the blast, a Gaza civil defence chief said 300 people were killed, while health ministry sources put the figure at 500.
Reuters could not independently verify who was responsible for the blast or how many people were killed.
Before Tuesday’s blast, health authorities in Gaza said at least 3,000 people had died in Israel’s 11-day bombardment that began after a Hamas Oct 7 rampage on southern Israeli communities in which 1,300 people were killed and around 200 were taken into Gaza as hostages.
Gaza, a 45km long enclave home to 2.3 million people, has been ruled since 2006 by Hamas, an Islamist group that is a United States (US)-designated foreign terrorist organisation.
The blast took place on the eve of a visit by US President Joe Biden to Israel to show support for the country in its war with Hamas and to hear how Israel plans to minimise civilian casualties. One US aim is to keep the conflict from spreading.
Regardless of who is found responsible for the explosion, which Hamas said had killed patients and others left homeless by Israeli bombardment, it will complicate efforts to contain the crisis.
In one sign of this, Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, cancelled a summit his country was to host in Amman with Mr Biden and the Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.
In another, Palestinian security forces fired tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah who were throwing rocks and chanting against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as popular anger boiled.
The blast drew condemnation across the Arab world, and protests were staged at Israel’s embassies in Turkey and Jordan and near the US embassy in Lebanon, where security forces fired tear gas toward demonstrators.
Television footage showed protests in Yemen’s southwestern city of Taz, as well as in the Moroccan and Iraqi capitals.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group denounced what it said was Israel’s deadly attack on the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital in Gaza, run by the Anglican church, and called for “a day of unprecedented anger” against Israel and Biden’s visit.