US says intelligence shows Gaza militants were behind hospital blast

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Key points

  • White House says the current US assessment of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source info is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at Gaza hospital
  • Anti-Israeli protests held across Middle East, blaming Israel for hospital carnageRescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors.
  • The Gaza health ministry put the death toll from the blast at 471, though Israel disputed the figure.
  • The Gaza health ministry said 3478 Palestinians have been killed, while Israel says 1400 have died in Hamas’ attack.
  • Netanyahu’s office put out a statement saying Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt.

Tel Aviv: US officials say their own intelligence shows that the deadly blast at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital on Wednesday was caused by an armed Palestinian group, as the Middle East reels from the aftermath of the explosion.

The intelligence assessment came as US President Joe Biden wrapped up his hasty one-day visit to Israel, which had been complicated by the blast at the hospital that has killed hundreds.

The White House National Security Council said the US assessment was based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information.

Bodies of Palestinians killed by an explosion at the Ahli Arab hospital are gathered in Gaza City.Credit: AP

“While we continue to collect information, our current assessment, based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open-source information, is that Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” said Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council.

Raising fears of wider instability, protesters staged anti-Israeli demonstrations around the Middle East over the fireball that engulfed Al Ahli Arab Hospital late on Tuesday, which Palestinian officials said killed 471 people.

They blamed an Israeli air strike, while Israel said it was caused by a failed rocket launch by the Gaza Strip’s Islamic Jihad militant group, which denied blame.

Palestinian protesters burn pictures that show US President Joe Biden during a protest in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, at the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh, south Lebanon.Credit: AP

Biden promised more aid to Israel at the end of his impromptu one-day visit to the country, which is bombarding Gaza to try to root out militants from its ruling Hamas group after they killed 1400 Israelis in a cross-border assault on October 7.

He said of the hospital blast: “Based on the information we have seen today, it appears the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza.”

Arab leaders responded to the loss of life at the hospital, which they blamed on Israel, by cancelling a summit with Biden in Jordan. This had been intended as the second half of his carefully choreographed itinerary for emergency meetings with allies to avert a wider Middle East war.

Volunteers and NGO staff pray at the Rafah border after a massive blast hit the Ahli Arab Hospital Hospital in Gaza in North Sinai, Egypt. Credit: Getty

Don’t be consumed by rage, Biden says

Biden said the United States would do everything it could to ensure Israel was safe while also urging Israelis not to be consumed by rage, reiterating that the vast majority of Palestinians were not affiliated with Hamas.

The Gaza health ministry said 3478 Palestinians have been killed and 12,065 injured in Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave since October 7.

Biden said the US would provide $US100 million in new funding for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“What sets us apart from the terrorists is we believe in the fundamental dignity of every human life,” Biden said. If that was not respected, “then the terrorists win.”

He also said he would ask Congress for an “unprecedented” aid package this week, before flying out of Israel after what ended up being a less than eight-hour visit.

Biden faced intense pressure to secure a clear Israeli commitment to let aid into Gaza from Egypt, to ease the plight of civilians in the small, densely populated coastal enclave.

At the end of his visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office put out a statement saying Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt. His office also reiterated that it would not let aid in from Israel until Hamas released Israeli hostages.

Protesters demonstrate in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Credit: Getty

Biden’s Middle East trip was designed to calm the region, but Jordan called off his planned summit there with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority after the hospital blast. Instead he was expected to hold phone calls with Jordan and Egypt from Air Force One on his way home.

Rescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors. The Gaza health ministry put the death toll at 471, though Israel disputed the figure. Palestinian ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al-Qudra said rescuers were still recovering bodies.

“We don’t know what it was, but we found out what it could do, after it targeted children, who were cut into pieces,” said Mohammad Al-Naqa, a doctor at the hospital who said 3000 people were sheltering there when it was hit.

Palestinians were convinced the explosion was an Israeli attack, with no warning for patients, staff or the Gazans already made homeless by bombing to leave.

Israel later released drone footage which it said showed it was not responsible because there was no impact crater from any missile or bomb and no structural damage to surrounding buildings.

Lebanese protesters in front of the US embassy.Credit: Getty

Fury across Middle East

World leaders from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to Russian President Vladimir Putin denounced the blast in statements that nonetheless avoided addressing who was to blame.

The blast unleashed anger across the Middle East.

In Lebanon, security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters throwing projectiles near the US embassy north of Beirut. State-sponsored marches were held across Iran, backer of Hamas and Israel’s sworn foe, with demonstrators carrying banners that read “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.

Palestinian officials said Israeli forces shot dead two Palestinian teenagers near Ramallah in the West Bank during widespread protests.

There were new clashes on Israel’s border with Lebanon, part of the deadliest violence between the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and Israel since the last all-out war in 2006.

The UN Middle East peace envoy Tor Wennesland told the Security Council the hospital blast needed more investigation.

“I fear that we are at the brink of a deep and dangerous abyss that could change the trajectory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, if not of the Middle East as a whole,” he said.


More coverage of the Hamas-Israel conflict

  • Cascading violence: Tremors from the Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have reached far beyond the border. But what would all-out war in the Middle East look like?
  • The human cost: Hamas’ massacre in Israel has traumatised – and hardened – survivors. And in Gaza, neighourhoods have become ghost cities.
  • “Hamas metro”: Inside the labyrinthine network of underground tunnels, which the Palestinian militant group has commanded beneath war-ravaged Gaza for 16 years. The covert corridors have long provided essential channels for the movement of weapons and armed combatants.
  • What is Hezbollah?: As fears of the conflict expanding beyond Israel and Hamas steadily rise, all eyes are on the militant group and political party that controls southern Lebanon and has been designated internationally as a terrorist group. How did it form and what does Iran have to do with it?

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