Tuesday, April 23, 2024
HomeWorldMiddle EastGaza hospital blast disrupts Biden's summit with Arabs

Gaza hospital blast disrupts Biden’s summit with Arabs

A deadly blast at a hospital in central Gaza has put at risk Washington’s diplomatic efforts to address the humanitarian catastrophe in that region, according to The Guardian.

A summit in the Jordanian capital Amman was cancelled on Tuesday at which US President Joe Biden was scheduled to hold talks with Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The meeting was cancelled as the US president was about to fly from Washington to Israel on Wednesday morning for talks with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Gaza Health Ministry officials said more than 500 people were killed at the hospital, the deadliest explosion in all five wars Israel and Hamas have fought over Gaza.

Hamas blames Israel for the airstrike on the hospital, while the Israeli military said the hospital was destroyed by rocket fire from the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. Islamic Jihad also denied responsibility.

The hospital bombing sparked Palestinian protests across the Middle East. In Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is located, demonstrators threw stones at Palestinian security forces, who opened fire on the crowd with flash-bang rocket-propelled grenades.

Anger against Israel was also sparked by a large rally outside the Israeli embassy in Amman, Jordan, on Tuesday. Police fired tear gas to disperse several thousand demonstrators who chanted pro-Hamas slogans and demanded that the government close the embassy and terminate the peace treaty with Israel. Jordan’s peace treaty with Israel is not popular with many of the country’s citizens.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah called for a “day of rage” to coincide with Biden’s visit to the region. In response to Hezbollah’s call, hundreds of demonstrators scuffled with Lebanese security forces outside the US Embassy in Beirut.

Biden said on Tuesday that he was “outraged” by the hospital bombing and directed his national security team to gather information about what exactly happened.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters in an interview that a planned summit with Biden was cancelled because “it is useless now to talk about anything other than ending the war.” Safadi said the meeting was to have taken place at a time when the two sides could have agreed to end “the war and the massacres of Palestinians,” accusing Israel with its military campaign of pushing the region to the “edge of the abyss.”

The White House later released its comments:

After consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, President Biden will postpone his travel to Jordan and the planned meeting with these two leaders and President Sisi of Egypt.

Abbas had earlier refused to attend the meeting, declaring three days of national mourning. White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that “the decision not to go to Jordan was a mutual decision.” Kirby added that Biden plans to speak with Sisi and Abbas by phone during his flight home to Washington on Wednesday night.

King Abdullah has warned that Israel’s response in the wake of deadly Hamas attacks, went beyond the right to self-defence and into the massacre of Palestinian civilians. Joe Biden was expected to help curb Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, which is under constant bombardment and short of water, food and medicine, during his trip to Israel. UN officials say more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed in the days since the Hamas attack.

Kirby said the president would emphasise continued US military support for Israel but would also “get a sense from the Israelis of the situation on the ground and, more importantly, their goals, plans and intentions for the days and weeks ahead.” He claimed:

And he’ll be asking some tough questions. He’ll be asking them as a friend – as a true friend of Israel, but he will be asking some questions of them.

Even before the Gaza hospital bombing and mass protests, Biden’s visit was risky in terms of his international reputation and domestic standing in an election year. The US believed it had managed to reach humanitarian agreements with the Netanyahu government over the past two days, but they were not realised. Biden agreed to visit Israel on the condition that corridors for humanitarian aid and safe zones for Palestinian civilians were opened to Gaza. However, on the eve of his arrival, the border with Egypt, where aid supplies are stored, remained closed.

On one side of the Rafah crossing stand Palestinians waiting to leave Gaza, while on the other side convoys of trucks carrying food, medicine and water wait for the border to open. Egypt controls the border, but requires Israel to agree on what and who is allowed to cross.

The border had not been reopened by Tuesday evening, and the border crossing and nearby communities were subjected to massive airstrikes. The Gaza Interior Ministry said at least 49 Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes on homes in Rafah and Khan Younis.

Kirby said Biden would use his visit to argue for the need for immediate humanitarian support for the people of Gaza. He added:

We want to see it be able to be sustained – food, water, obviously, electrical power, medicine – all the things that the people of Gaza are going to continue to need as this conflict continues to go on. So, he’ll make that case very, very clearly. We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to get some humanitarian assistance in.

The UN human rights office has condemned “horrific reports” of the killing of civilians in the southern Gaza Strip who have been ordered by Israeli authorities to flee for their own safety. Office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani called on Israel to avoid “indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks.”

On Tuesday, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht commented on the airstrikes on Rafah:

When we see a target, when we see something moving that is Hamas, we take care of it. It’s as simple as that.

Earlier, Israel had declared a total siege on the Gaza region, cutting off the supply of water and electricity to the region. Gaza’s only power plant was knocked out. The lack of clean water and the presence of dead bodies under the rubble could cause an epidemic. Hospitals are in a state of collapse due to lack of electricity and fuel for generators. Israel has partially restored water supply to the southern Gaza Strip, but it is only 4 per cent of the territory’s normal water supply, according to the UN.


Most Popular