Israel to let Egypt deliver some aid to Gaza as it reels from hospital blast
Israel said Wednesday that it will allow Egypt to deliver limited quantities of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. The first crack in a punishing 10-day siege on the territory came one day after a deadly blast at a Gaza City hospital killed hundreds and put immense strain on Gaza doctors treating the many wounded as medical supplies ran out.
The announcement to allow water, food and other supplies came as rage over Tuesday night’s blast at al-Ahli Hospital spread across the Middle East, and as U.S. President Joe Biden visited Israel in hopes of preventing a wider conflict in the region.
There were conflicting claims of who was responsible for the explosion. Hamas officials in Gaza quickly blamed an Israeli airstrike, saying nearly 500 were killed. Israel denied it was involved and released a flurry of video, audio and other information that it said showed the blast was instead due to a rocket misfire by Islamic Jihad, another militant group operating in Gaza. Islamic Jihad dismissed that claim.
The Associated Press has not independently verified any of the claims or evidence released by the parties.
Israel shut off all supplies to Gaza soon after Hamas militants rampaged across communities in southern Israel on Oct. 7. The al-Ahli carnage threw the siege’s impact into sharp relief.
Hundreds of wounded were rushed to another hospital, nearly out of supplies and fuel for its generators, and doctors performed surgery on the floors, often without anesthesia.
Biden said Egypt’s president agreed to open the crossing and, to begin with, to let in 20 trucks with humanitarian aid. If Hamas confiscates aid, “it will end,” he said. White House officials said the aid would flow as early as Friday, once the roads are patched.
At Rafah crossing, Gaza’s only connection to Egypt, lines of trucks with aid have waited for days to enter. But the facility has only a limited capacity. Egypt must still repair the road across the border that was cratered by Israeli airstrikes.
Supplies will eventually go in under supervision of the U.N., Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told Al-Arabiya TV. He did not specify the number of trucks. Asked if foreigners and dual nationals seeking to leave would be let through, he said: “As long as the crossing is operating normally and the (crossing) facility has been repaired.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said the decision was approved after a request from Biden. It said Israel “will not thwart” deliveries of food, water or medicine from Egypt, as long as they are limited to civilians in the south of the Gaza Strip and don’t go to Hamas militants. The statement made no mention of badly needed fuel.
Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel resumed Wednesday after a 12-hour lull, and Israeli strikes on Gaza continued, including on cities in the south that Israel had described as “safe zones” for civilians.
In his brief visit, Biden tried to strike a balance between showing U.S. support for Israel, while containing growing alarm among Arab allies. Upon his arrival, Biden embraced Netanyahu — and expressed concern for the suffering of Gaza’s civilians.
Biden said the hospital blast appeared not to be Israel’s fault, and he cautioned Israelis not to allow outrage over the deadly Hamas attack to consume them.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi warned that the war was “pushing the region to the brink.” After the hospital blast, Jordan canceled a meeting between Biden, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and the Palestinian and Egyptian presidents.
The Israeli military held a briefing Wednesday morning laying out its case for why it was not responsible for the explosion at the al-Ahli Hospital.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said it was not firing in the area when the blast occurred. He said Israeli radar confirmed a rocket barrage was fired by the Palestinian militant Islamic Jihad from a nearby cemetery at the time of the blast, around 6:59 p.m. Independent video showed one rocket in the barrage falling out of the sky, he said.
The misfired rocket hit the parking lot outside the hospital, he said. Were it an airstrike, there would have been a large crater there; instead, the fiery blast came from the misfired rocket’s warhead and its unspent propellant, he said.
Hamas called Tuesday’s hospital blast “a horrific massacre,” saying it was caused by an Israeli strike. Islamic Jihad accused Israel of trying “to evade responsibility for the brutal massacre it committed.”
The group pointed to Israel’s order days before that al-Ahli be evacuated and a previous strike at the hospital as proof that the hospital was an Israeli target. It also said the scale of the explosion, the angle of the bomb’s fall and the extent of the destruction all pointed to Israel.
The Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, said the hospital, run by the Episcopal Church, received at least three Israeli military orders to evacuate in the days before the blast. Israeli shelling hit it Sunday, wounding four staffers, he said. Israel ordered all 22 hospitals in northern Gaza to evacuate last week.
Naoum declined to cast blame on either party for the blast. “We just want to let people see what is happening on the ground and hope that people will come to the conclusion that we’ve had enough of this war,” he said.
Hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge in al-Ahli and other hospitals in Gaza City, hoping they would be spared bombardment after Israel ordered all residents of the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate to the south. Video after the blast showed the hospital grounds strewn with torn bodies, many of them young children.
On Wednesday morning, the blast scene was littered with charred cars and the ground was blackened. One man who had been sheltering there with his family, Mohammed al-Hayek, said he was sitting with other men in a hospital stairwell Tuesday night, wary of sitting in the yard.
He stepped away to get them coffee when the blast hit.
“When I returned, they were torn to pieces,” he said.
Origin of Gaza hospital blast unclear after hundreds killed
The death toll was in dispute. The Health Ministry initially said at least 500 had died, but revised that number to 471 on Wednesday. Al-Ahli officials said the toll was in the hundreds. Abu Selmia said he thought the toll was closer to 250.
The Gaza Health Ministry said 3,478 people have been killed in Gaza since the war began, and more than 12,000 wounded, mostly women, children and the elderly. Another 1,300 people across Gaza are believed to be buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said.
More than 1,400 people in Israel have been killed, mostly civilians slain during Hamas’ deadly incursion, in which the fighters took some 200 hostages into Gaza. Militants in Gaza have launched rockets every day since toward cities across Israel.
More than 1 million Palestinians have fled their homes — roughly half of Gaza’s population. Most have crowded into the territory’s southern half. Many families say they have cut down to one meal a day and have been left to drink contaminated water amid worsening shortages.
“It’s not just that people are going hungry. People are at the risk of starvation,” Alia Zaki, a spokesperson for the World Food Program, said.
With troops massed along the border, Israel has been expected to launch a ground invasion into Gaza, though military officials say no decision has been made.
With Israeli airstrikes relentlessly pounding the Gaza Strip, displaced Palestinians increasingly feel that no place is safe. Palestinians in northern Gaza and Gaza City have taken refuge in the homes of their relatives further south following an Israeli military evacuation order.
The Musa family fled to the typically sleepy central town of Deir al-Balah and sheltered in a cousin’s three-story home near the local hospital. But on Wednesday at 7:30p.m., a series of explosions, believed to be airstrikes, rocked the building, turning the family home into a mountain of rubble that they said has buried some 20 women and children.
The dead body of Hiam Musa, the sister-in-law of Associated Press photojournalist Adel Hana, was recovered from under the building Wednesday evening, the family said. The family doesn’t know who else is under the rubble, alive or dead.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Hana said. “We went to Deir al-Balah because it’s quiet, we thought we would be safe.”
The Israeli military said it was investigating. The Israeli military says it is targeting Hamas hideouts, infrastructure and command centers and accuses the militants of hiding among civilians.
-Debre and Nessman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press journalists Amy Teibel in Jerusalem; Samya Kullab in Baghdad; Abby Sewell in Beirut; Samy Magdy and Jack Jeffrey in Cairo; and Ashraf Sweilam in el-Arish, Egypt, contributed to this report.
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