19 Oct 2023

Biden backs Israel's account of deadly Gaza hospital explosion

7:16 am on 19 October 2023

By Gareth Evans, BBC News

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on October 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. Biden landed in Israel on October 18, on a solidarity visit following Hamas attacks that have led to major Israeli reprisals. Thousands of people, both Israeli and Palestinians have died since October 7, 2023, after Palestinian Hamas militants based in the Gaza Strip, entered southern Israel in a surprise attack leading Israel to declare war on Hamas in Gaza on October 8. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on 18 October 2023. Photo: AFP

US President Joe Biden has said a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital appears to have been caused by Palestinian militants, backing Israel's account of the incident as he visits the country.

Biden, who landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, said he was "deeply saddened and outraged" by the explosion.

Israel's military said it was caused by a failed Palestinian rocket launch.

But Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit the hospital.

Health officials in Gaza have said almost 500 people were killed in the explosion, but no death toll has been confirmed.

Meanwhile, Biden has announced that an agreement has been reached with Israel to allow humanitarian aid to move from Egypt into Gaza. However, Israel said it would not allow any aid to pass through its own territory until hostages being held by Hamas are released.

'Deeply saddened and outraged'

Biden's high-stakes visit has been overshadowed by the blast at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital on Tuesday evening, which has further inflamed tensions and sparked protests across the region.

He landed in Tel Aviv on Wednesday where he was greeted warmly by Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, before the pair hosted a joint news conference.

"I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday," Biden said.

"Based on what I've seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you," he told Netanyahu. "But there's a lot of people out there not sure so we have to overcome a lot of things."

Biden was later asked by reporters what led him to conclude that Israel was not responsible, and said: "The data I was shown by my defence department."

In the news conference, he reiterated his support for Israel and condemned the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which launched an unprecedented attack on Israel from Gaza on 7 October that left 1400 people dead.

At least 3000 people have been killed in retaliatory Israeli strikes on Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials.

Biden had planned to travel from Israel to Jordan to meet King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, but that leg of the trip was cancelled after the hospital blast on Tuesday.

Jordan cancelled the meeting and condemned what it called "a great calamity and a heinous war crime". The White House, meanwhile, said the decision had been "made in a mutual way" and Biden would call Abbas and Sisi on his return flight to the US.

Biden also said $100 million in US funding would be allocated to support Palestinian civilians. Concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza has grown in recent days, with food, water and medicine in short supply.

Authorities in Gaza, which is governed by Hamas, have said 500 people died in the hospital explosion on Tuesday, which one doctor called "a massacre".

Hamas blamed Israel, calling it a "war crime". A spokesperson for Abbas, who is based in the occupied West Bank, accused Israel of a "heinous crime".

But the Israeli military said it had proof its forces were not behind the blast and that it was instead caused by rockets misfired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

"According to our intelligence, Hamas checked the reports, understood it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that had misfired - and decided to launch a global media campaign to hide what really happened," spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told a briefing on Tuesday. "They went as far as inflating the number of casualties."

- This story was first published by the BBC

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