GAZA, Oct 17 (Reuters) – Gaza’s health ministry spokesman said an Israeli air strike on Tuesday killed hundreds of people at a hospital in the Palestinian enclave, but Israel said a Palestinian barrage had caused the blast.
The death toll was by far the highest of any single incident in Gaza during the current violence, triggering protests in the occupied West Bank, Istanbul, and Amman.
The Palestinian Authority’s health minister, Mai Alkaila, accused Israel of “a massacre” at Al-Ahli al-Arabi Hospital. The strike killed hundreds of people and occurred during Israel’s intense 11-day bombing campaign in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that “barbaric terrorists” in Gaza had carried out the hospital attack, absolving Israel’s military of responsibility.
Ashraf Al-Qudra, the health ministry spokesman, reported in the early hours of Wednesday that hundreds of individuals had been killed, and rescue teams were still working to recover bodies from the debris. Initially, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, a Gaza civil defense leader stated that 300 people had lost their lives, while sources from the health ministry cited a figure of 500.
Israeli Military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters rockets fired by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group passed by the hospital at the time of the strike, which he said hit the facility’s parking lot.
Another spokesman, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, told CNN the military intercepted a conversation in which militants acknowledged a misfire. He said the military would release a recording of the conversation.
Islamic Jihad denied that any of its rockets were involved in the hospital blast, saying it did not have any activity in or around Gaza City at that time. Iran-backed Islamic Jihad took part in the Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7 and, like Hamas, has fired numerous salvoes of rockets into Israel.
The hospital strike and the high number of casualties sparked condemnation from numerous countries just prior to the visit of U.S. President Joseph Biden to Israel. Both Russia and the United Arab Emirates called for a U.N. Security Council meeting, and clashes erupted in the West Bank.
Earlier on Tuesday, the United Nations stated that an Israeli strike had hit one of its schools where over 4,000 people had sought shelter. The agency reported six deaths and numerous injuries resulting from the strike. Israel’s military stated that it was investigating this incident.
While addressing reporters, Hagari expressed skepticism about the Palestinian casualty count in the hospital strike and asserted that there was no direct impact on the facility.He said military drone footage showed “a kind of hit in the parking lot.”
He said the military did have an Israeli air force operation in the area around the time of the hospital blast, “but it was with a different kind of ammunition that does not … fit the footage that we have (of) the hospital.”
On the death count, Hagari said: “I don’t know how many people (were) hit here, even. Nobody can verify it yet.”