The huge explosion tore through the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday night while it was being used to treat and shelter thousands of civilians amid the ongoing conflict.
The devastating fireball has sparked a venomous blame game between Hamas and Israel, with both sides blaming armed forces across the border for the destruction and furiously denying it was their fault.
Palestinian officials say the horror explosion was caused by an Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) air strike, while officials in the Jewish state insisted it was the result of a ‘failed’ rocket launched by terrorist group Islamic Jihad.
However, the terror group has labelled the claims ‘completely incorrect’ and accused the IDF of ‘trying to cover for the horrifying crime and massacre they committed against civilians’.
Joe Biden visited….
The blast threw a visit from US President Joe Biden to the region – in the hopes of showing support for Israel and preventing the war from spreading – into chaos, with a planned meeting involving him, the president of Palestine Mahmoud Abbas, and leaders from Egypt and Jordan cancelled by the Arab nations in protest.
Hellish video taken from the hospital, which was sheltering around 6,000 Palestinians and is funded by the Anglican Church, shows fire engulfing the building and the dozens of bodies strewn over the ground, many of them young children.
Ambulances and private cars rushed some 350 casualties from the al-Ahli blast to Gaza City’s main hospital, al-Shifa, already overwhelmed with wounded from other strikes, said its director, Mohammed Abu Selmia.
‘We are squeezing five beds into a single tiny room. We need equipment, we need medicine, we need beds, we need everything,’ Mr Abu Selmia said, warning that the fuel supply for the hospital’s generators will run out on Wednesday.
‘I think Gaza’s medical sector will collapse within hours.’
In a press conference at al-Shifa doctors stood in a sea of dead children who had been brought from the stricken hospital, holding some of their faces to the cameras to show the horror that had befallen them.In the immediate aftermath Hamas called the devastation a ‘horrific massacre’ and a ‘crime of genocide’, laying blame at the feet of Israel.
British director of the charity that runs the hospital, Richard Sewell, said: ‘Disaster: our hospital, Ahli Arab hospital has taken a direct hit from an Israeli missile.
‘Early reports say hundreds of women and children killed. This is deliberate killing of vulnerable civilians. The bombs must stop now. There can be no possible justification for this.’
It claimed that the attack had mostly killed people who were homeless after Israeli bombardments had destroyed their houses, with the dead including patients, women and children.
Izzat El-Reshiq, a senior Hamas member, said: ‘There are scores of dismembered and crushed bodies, baths of blood.’
The Israeli military blamed the explosion on Islamic Jihad, a smaller, more radical Palestinian militant group that often co-operates with Hamas in their shared struggle against Israel.
The military, in a statement, said that a ‘barrage of rockets was fired by terrorists in Gaza, passing in close proximity to Ahli hospital in Gaza at the time it was hit’.
An IDF spokesperson added: ‘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 Israeli army earlier on Tuesday said that a hospital is a ‘highly sensitive building’ and is ‘not an IDF target’, and urged ‘everyone to proceed with caution when reporting unverified claims of a terrorist organisation’.
This was backed up by Justin Bronk, a senior research fellow in airpower and technology at the Royal United Services Institute, who said video of the explosion did not match with the type of weapons Israel typically uses.
On Twitter he wrote: ‘For what it’s worth, this doesn’t look or sound quite like an air strike using the typical IAF 1000lb or 2000lb JDAM/Mk80 series to me.
Incoming projectile sounds like it’s under power and the explosion frames visible look like largely propellant fire rather than HE [high explosive] detonation…
‘The incident has raised tensions in the region even further, with Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon calling for ‘a day of unprecedented anger’ against Israel, while Libya’s foreign ministry accused the Jewish state of ‘war crimes and genocide’.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a statement on Tuesday, saying ‘I condemn in the strongest of terms Israel’s bombardment’ on a hospital in Gaza, and calling it a ‘clear violation of international law’.
Meanwhile, Iran’s official Twitter account cryptically posted the words ‘time is up’, hours after its president Ebrahim Raisi declared ‘the flames of US-Israeli bombs… will soon consume the Zionists’.