GAZA CITY — In a devastating turn of events on Tuesday, Gaza City witnessed a catastrophic explosion that claimed the lives of hundreds at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, packed with people seeking refuge. The incident added another layer of complexity to the already strained relations between Palestinians and Israelis.
Hamas, the de facto governing body in Gaza, asserted that the explosion resulted from an Israeli airstrike. Israeli officials countered stating that a malfunctioning rocket launched by Palestinian militants caused the tragedy. The conflicting narratives intensified an already precarious situation.
Verified photos and videos circulating online vividly depict the aftermath, portraying scenes of bloodied bodies, engulfing flames, and distraught witnesses amidst the remnants of the hospital. Palestinian photojournalist Ali Jadallah reported that many victims, transported to another hospital, arrived in a state of disarray, with a significant number already deceased.
The stark images, coupled with immediate blame on Israel by Hamas and a delayed denial from Israeli authorities, triggered widespread anger across the Middle East. Protests erupted in Beirut, and in Amman, Jordan, demonstrators set fire outside the Israeli embassy.
Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority, abruptly cut short a scheduled meeting with President Biden in Jordan in response to the tragedy. Saudi Arabia, which had been exploring relations with Israel, condemned the incident, attributing it to “the forces of the Israeli occupation”.
Israeli military sources and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attributed the hospital blast to a malfunctioning rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), a group aligned with Hamas. PIJ denied the allegations, but evidence available on Wednesday cast doubt that an airstrike on the hospital had taken place. Instances of rockets malfunctioning and hitting civilian areas have been documented in the past.
🧵Now that day has broken, and we're getting better evidence, I'm willing to share some PRELIMINARY thoughts on the al-Ahli hospital explosion. The photos of the scene are, to me, not consistent with an airstrike and are not consistent with claims that 500+ people were killed. pic.twitter.com/dzA3Bx71hr
— Nathan Ruser (@Nrg8000) October 18, 2023
While the Gazan health ministry initially reported a toll of 500 or more dead, later revised to “hundreds”, independent verification of these figures remains challenging. Whatever the numbers, the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital, operated by the Anglican Church, did witness a significant loss of life.
Within the broader context of the conflict, Israeli airstrikes retaliated against Hamas’s actions on October 7, resulting in a dire humanitarian situation. The ongoing bombing campaign, coupled with evacuation directives, displaced hundreds of thousands, leading to casualties and critical shortages of water, food, fuel, and medicine.
As people seek refuge in the streets, clashes over limited resources intensify, and Gaza’s hospitals struggle to cope with the surge in wounded patients. Despite ongoing international talks, no consensus has been reached to facilitate the entry of vital supplies, allow safe exits, or establish secure zones for civilians within the besieged territory, where over 2 million people endure worsening conditions.