World

Biden says Gaza hospital blast ‘done by the other team’ and not Israel

US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Joe Biden began his visit to Israel on Wednesday vowing to show the world that the US stands in solidarity with the Jewish people and offering an assessment that the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out “by the other team” and not the Israeli military.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting, referring to Hamas militants.

But he added that there are “a lot of people out there” who are not sure what caused the blast.

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry said an Israeli air strike caused the destruction and hundreds of deaths.

The Israeli military denies involvement and blamed a misfired rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group. However, that organisation also denied responsibility.

Mr Biden had been scheduled to visit Jordan after the stop in Israel, but meetings with Arab leaders there were called off after the hospital explosion.

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US President Joe Biden suggested the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital appears to have been carried out ‘by the other team’ and not the Israeli military (Evan Vucci/AP)

He told Mr Netanyahu he was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the explosion, but he also said it is not hyperbole to say Hamas had “slaughtered” Israelis in the October 7 attack.

“Americans are grieving, they really are,” he said. “Americans are worried.”

Mr Netanyahu thanked Mr Biden for going to Israel, telling him the visit is “deeply, deeply moving”.

“I know I speak for all the people of Israel when I say thank you, Mr President. Thank you for standing with Israel today, tomorrow and always.”

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President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv (Evan Vucci/AP)

The two leaders met at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and embraced before speeding away for hours of meetings, where the US president is expected to push for allowing critical humanitarian aid to be delivered to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has been preparing for a potential ground invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas’s attack on October 7, which killed 1,400 Israelis.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters on board Air Force One that Mr Biden “wants to get a sense from the Israelis on the situation on the ground” and will “ask some tough questions”.

“He’ll be asking them as a friend,” Mr Kirby added.

Mr Biden also plans to meet Israeli first responders and the families of victims killed and hostages taken when Hamas made its incursion into Israel.

Roughly 2,800 Palestinians have been reported killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza. Another 1,200 people are believed to be buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said.

Those numbers pre-date the explosion at the al-Ahli hospital on Tuesday. No clear cause has been established for the blast.

Protests swept through the region after the blast at the hospital, which had been treating wounded Palestinians and sheltering many more who were seeking a refuge from the fighting.

Hundreds of Palestinians flooded the streets of major West Bank cities including Ramallah. More people joined protests that erupted in Beirut, Lebanon, and Amman, Jordan, where an angry crowd gathered outside the Israeli Embassy.

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Demonstrators in Beirut, Lebanon, wave Palestinian flags during a protest in solidarity with the people of Gaza (Bilal Hussein/AP)

Outrage scuppered Mr Biden’s plans to visit Jordan, where King Abdullah II was due to host meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Mr Abbas withdrew in protest, and the summit was subsequently cancelled outright.

Jordan declared three days of mourning after the hospital explosion.

Mr Kirby said Mr Biden understood the move was part of a “mutual” decision to call off the Jordan portion of his trip, and said the president would speak to the Arab leaders by phone as he returned to Washington.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, told a state-run television network that the war is “pushing the region to the brink”.

There are also fears that a new front could erupt along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah operates. The Iran-backed organisation has been skirmishing with Israeli forces.

Mr Biden’s trip will test the limits of US influence in the Middle East at a volatile time.

It is his second trip to a conflict zone this year, after he visited Ukraine in February to show solidarity with the country as it battles Russia’s invasion.

His visit to Israel coincides with rising humanitarian concerns in Gaza, where Israel has cut off the flow of food, fuel and water. Mediators have been struggling to break a deadlock over providing supplies to desperate civilians, aid groups and hospitals.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, Jordan (Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, bouncing between Arab and Israeli leadership ahead of Mr Biden’s visit, spent seven-and-a-half hours in meetings in Tel Aviv on Monday in an effort to broker some kind of aid agreement and emerged with a green light to develop a plan on how aid can enter Gaza and be distributed to civilians.

Although only a modest accomplishment on the surface, US officials stressed that Mr Blinken’s talks led to a significant change in Israel’s position that Gaza would remain cut off from fuel, electricity, water and other essential supplies.

US officials said it has become clear that already limited Arab tolerance of Israel’s military operations will evaporate entirely if conditions in Gaza worsen.

Their analysis projected that outright condemnation of Israel by Arab leaders would not only be a boon to Hamas but would be likely to encourage Iran to step up its anti-Israel activity, adding to fears that a regional conflagration might erupt.