Hundreds killed in blast at Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza

Both the Israeli military and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group denied blame for the attack.

Sulaiman Daud | October 18, 2023, 08:54 AM



A blast at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in central Gaza City has killed at least 500 people, reported several media outlets on Oct. 18 (Singapore time), including Al Jazeera and the Washington Post, citing the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The news of the explosion sparked outrage and protests in different countries, with world leaders condemning the incident as the Israelis and Palestinians traded blame for who was responsible.

Traded blame

The Hamas government of Gaza blamed the blast on the Israeli military, and said the attack was a "war crime", Al Jazeera reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli military spokesperson Avichay Adraee tweeted that a group called Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza had fired a missile salvo aimed at Israel, that "passed in the vicinity of the hospital" at the moment it was hit.

He added that the group was responsible for the "failed rocket launch" that struck the hospital.

The group, which Reuters said took part in the Oct. 7 attack in Israel led by Hamas and previously fired missile salvos into Israel, denied responsibility for the attack.

Al Jazeera reported the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as accusing the Israeli military of "trying hard to evade its responsibility for the brutal massacre" at the hospital.

Al-Ahli Hospital

According to the Washington Postthe Al-Ahli Baptist hospital has 80 beds and is owned and operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.

Eileen Spencer, head of the American fundraising arm for the diocese, said that Al-Ahli is the only independent, Christian-led medical facility in Gaza.

"We don’t know if the hospital will still be standing," she said to the Post.

The Post shared what it said was a verified video of the moment an explosion hit the grounds of the hospital, from X (formerly Twitter) user @lanasaiif.

There is the sound of something moving through the air at high speed, and then a blast, with the camera panning to show a blaze and smoke.

Gazans seeking shelter at hospital

The BBC reported that hundreds of displaced Palestinians were sheltering in a hall on the hospital grounds when the blast occurred.

Pictures emerging show "scenes of chaos", with bodies lying amongst the rubble and wrecked vehicles.

Al Jazeera spoke to a representative of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the West Bank, Nebal Farsakh, who said the number of casualties was high because Palestinians were seeking refuge at what they thought was a safer location.

"Those who were in front of the hospital were forced to leave their homes under the evacuation order. They can’t even afford to evacuate to the south. There’s complete destruction of the infrastructure and transportation," she said.

Evacuation order

Following the terror attacks by militant group Hamas out of Gaza on Oct. 7, the Israeli military responded with airstrikes and a siege on Gaza.

The military has ordered Palestinians in the area north of Wadi Gaza to evacuate to the south, ahead of an expected ground offensive, as it believes Hamas militants are sheltering in tunnels under buildings in northern Gaza. Hamas has asked residents not to evacuate.

However, the initial time limit of 24 hours for the evacuation was criticised by world organisations and leaders. The time limit appears to have been unofficially extended, although there is no clear indication as to how long it would last.

Condemnation and fallout

News of the blast at the hospital drew widespread condemnation from world leaders, and jeopardised a planned meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden, Egypt President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and Jordan's King Abdullah.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared "three days of mourning" and cancelled his meeting with Biden, who is flying into Israel.

The World Health Organization said "internally displaced people" were sheltering at the hospital, and called for the immediate active protection of civilians and health care.

Protests also broke out in the West Bank and in countries like Lebanon, Tunisia and Turkey.

Top image from lanasaiif / X.