President Joe Biden on Wednesday backed Israeli officials’ claim that an explosion that killed hundreds of people at a hospital in Gaza was not conducted by Israel’s military, after the Palestinian Health Ministry blamed Israel for the deadly airstrike and Israel claimed Palestinian rockets hit the hospital.
Biden told reporters on Wednesday that Defense Department data gave him confidence the explosion was not the result of an Israeli airstrike, and told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a visit to Israel that the strike appeared to have been launched by “the other team, not you.”
Biden said in a press conference the explosion appeared to be the result of an “errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” while White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson also claimed Israel was not responsible for the strike, citing “analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information.”
In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces claimed the hospital was hit in a “failed shooting” by Gaza-based militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, during an “enemy rocket barrage” aimed at Israel that passed over the hospital at the time the facility was struck.
Netanyahu also claimed the airstrike was the result of a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, citing “intelligence from multiple sources.”
The Palestinian Health Ministry, meanwhile, alleges the hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike, part of a dayslong bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—a Hamas rival who runs the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank but not the Gaza Strip—canceled a planned trip with Biden in Jordan after the hospital explosion, the Associated Press reported. Biden was scheduled to meet with Abbas as part of a Middle East trip that also includes a visit to Israel.
“Immediately upon hearing this news, I spoke with King Abdullah II of Jordan, and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and have directed my national security team to continue gathering information about what exactly happened,” Biden said in a statement, adding the U.S. “stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict.”
The hospital explosion came amid an Israeli counter-offensive in the 10 days since Hamas launched an assault on Israel, killing more than 1,400 Israeli citizens and taking civilian hostages. Israel’s military last week gave more than one million residents of densely populated Gaza City 24 hours to evacuate to the Gaza Strip’s southern border, following Netanyahu’s declaration of war against Hamas. Netanyahu says Israel’s mission in the war is to “destroy” the militant group that rules Gaza—the United Nations, however, cautioned such a swift evacuation would be “impossible” without “devastating humanitarian consequences.”
The UN’s Palestinian refugee agency also warned on Tuesday that fuel reserves at Gaza hospitals are running precariously low, with just another 24 hours of energy from generators left, putting the “lives of thousands of patients at serious risk.” Gaza’s lone power plant had shut down late last week after Israeli officials cut energy—and food—to the territory as part of its “complete siege” on Gaza. Due to Israel’s blockade of Gaza, UN authorities also warned they would not be able to continue providing humanitarian aid into Gaza, though Israel reportedly agreed to let water and medicine into the territory through Egypt, following pleas from the U.S.
Hamas’ attack—the deadliest on Israel in years, prompting a major retaliation from Israel’s military—has been widely condemned by Western officials, including Biden, who called the attack “horrific” and vowed to “stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support” to Israel.
Israel Orders 1.1 Million Gaza Residents To Relocate Within 24 Hours, UN Says It’s ‘Impossible’ (Forbes)
UN Body Warns Hospitals Have 24 Hours Of Fuel As Israeli Airstrikes Hit Southern Gaza (Forbes)