Strike kills hundreds at Gaza hospital on eve of Biden visit
PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES, (AFP) – Israeli air strikes on a hospital compound in the Gaza Strip killed at least 200 people, officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory said on Tuesday, on the eve of US President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East.
Biden’s visit, potentially the riskiest of his presidency, is expected to see him reaffirm US backing for Israel and try to stop the escalating war against Hamas spiralling into wider conflict.
Thousands of people have been killed since the militants’ October 7 attack, with most of the dead on both sides civilians.
The health ministry on Tuesday said between 200 and 300 people displaced by 10 days of heavy bombardment were killed in “occupation (Israeli) strikes” at the Ahli Arab hospital in cental Gaza.
“Hundreds of victims are still under the rubble,” a statement said, calling it a “war crime”.
Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari told a televised press briefing: “We will look into it… the strike happened just a short while ago.”
Separately, the United Nations agency supporting Palestinian refugees said six people were killed when one of its schools sheltering displaced families was hit, during Israeli air strikes.
UNRWA commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini called the bombing at Al-Maghazi refugee camp, also in central Gaza, “outrageous” and warned the death toll would likely rise.
“It again shows a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians. No place is safe in Gaza anymore, not even UNRWA facilities,” he added.
– Hostages –
Biden’s trip will come 12 days after the Palestinian militants of Hamas burst through Israel’s heavily fortified Gaza border, shooting, mutilating and burning more than 1,400 people.
Shell-shocked Israel has responded with withering air strikes against targets in Gaza, leaving about 3,000 Gazans dead, according to a toll from the health ministry in Gaza before the Ahli Arab strike.
Israel has also imposed a crippling siege on the impoverished territory and deployed tens of thousands of troops in preparation for a full-scale ground offensive.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas while also seeking to rescue the at least 199 hostages taken into Gaza by Hamas, which has released a video of one of the captives, French-Israeli woman Mia Shem.
Her mother, Keren Shem, made an emotional plea for her safe return, at a Tel Aviv press conference.
“I ask world leaders that my daughter be returned to us in the state that she is today, as well as the other hostages,” she said.
“I am begging the world to bring my baby back home.”
Diplomatic bids to free the hostages have gathered pace. Turkey said it was in talks with Hamas to secure their release.
But there were mixed views about how effective Biden could be, with some Palestinians blaming the United States for backing Israel, and even Israelis sceptical.
“We don’t believe anymore in politicians,” said Omer Nevo, 23. “I don’t trust anyone anymore after what has happened here.”