A day after an explosion at a busy Gaza hospital that likely killed a number of people, Israel and Hamas continue to blame each other as protests break out across the world and Joe Biden made a rare wartime presidential visit to Israel.
Palestinian authorities on Wednesday continued to say the hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike that killed up to 500 people. Israel on Wednesday added additional details to its statements that the explosion was caused by an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and questioned the casualty count.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, several U.S. military personnel were slightly injured by falling debris after suicide drone attacks on two facilities there, a U.S. official told The War Zone. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss military operations, said the personnel, a mix of uniformed military and contractors, returned to work after the attack on Al Asad Air Base.
U.S. facilities coming under attack in Iraq is not a new phenomenon, as we've previously reported. It is unclear who was behind today's attempted drone strike or what, if any connection there was to the hospital incident. However, it comes amid growing international outrage that U.S. officials are working feverishly to tamp down.
After arriving in Israel and meeting with Israeli officials, Biden said he concurred with the Israeli assessment about the hospital incident. He also urged Israeli leaders to temper their response to the Oct. 7 Hamas invasion and ongoing rocket attacks that so far have killed more than 1,200 Israelis.
“Based on the information we've seen today, it appears [to be] the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” Biden said of the hospital incident in a short speech from Israel Wednesday afternoon local time.
Before that speech, Biden told reporters his information about the hospital incident was based on “data I was shown by my defense department.”
In addition to siding with the Israeli assessment about what happened at the hospital, Biden also urged Israelis to be judicious in the use of force. Israel continues to pound Gaza with airstrikes, with Hamas claiming more than 3,000 people, the large majority women and children, have been killed as a result.
Israel has also amassed hundreds of thousands of troops ahead of a looming incursion into that densely populated Palestinian enclave. As we reported yesterday, Israeli officials said they have not yet determined the course of action they will take in a Gaza ground incursion.
Biden, as well as Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command are both in Israel to also discuss the Israeli military response and U.S. support for it. The Gerald R. Ford carrier strike group is in the eastern Mediterranean and the Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group is heading that way.
The 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, let by the USS Bataan, which abruptly ended pre-scheduled training in Kuwait last week, is en route "to the waters off of Israel," a defense official familiar with planning told Military.com on Monday. This will eventually put two carriers and an amphibious assault ship, a well as their many escorts, all off Israeli waters in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As we reported yesterday, the Pentagon has indicated that another 2,000 troops may get deployment orders to the region, though no decision has yet been made.
“I caution that while you feel this rage, don't be consumed by it,” Biden said. “After 9/11…while we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”
“I know the choice is never clear or easy,” Biden said. Any Israeli response “requires being deliberate. Requires asking very hard questions. Requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment of whether the path you are on will achieve those objectives.”
Biden, saying “the people of Gaza need food, water and medicine and shelter,” asked the Israeli cabinet to “agree to the delivery of life-saving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.”
He also announced “$100 million new U.S. funding for humanitarian assistance, both Gaza and the West Bank. This money will support more than one million displaced conflict-affected Palestinians including emergency needs in Gaza.”
The funds will be used to provide "clean water, food, hygiene support, medical care, and other essential needs," the White House later said. "The United States provides humanitarian assistance through trusted partners including UN agencies and international NGOs."
Israel on Wednesday laid its case for why it is not to blame for the attack on the hospital, which is run by the Episcopal Church.
Israeli military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters that Israel was not firing in the area when the blast occurred, The Associated Press reported. Hagari added that radar confirmed a rocket barrage was fired by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad from a nearby cemetery at the time of the blast, around 6:59 p.m. Independent video showed one of the rockets in the barrage falling out of the sky, he said.
The misfired rocket hit the parking lot outside the hospital. Were it an airstrike, there would have been a crater there; instead, the fiery blast came from the misfired rocket’s warhead and its unspent propellant, he said, according to the AP.
"The U.S. has independently assessed that it was a Palestinian Islamic Jihad group rocket that misfired and hit the hospital," two senior U.S. officials and a congressional staffer told NBC News Wednesday.
Images that have surfaced on social media Wednesday appear to show what appears to be a small crater in the parking lot where the explosion occurred. Some are saying it is not consistent with the munitions Israel has been using to attack Hamas, most notably Mk82/83/84 adapted smart munitions like JDAMs. That may be the case to some degree, but Israel is using a variety of weapons beyond these types in their bombardment campaign on Gaza, including weapons with much smaller warheads.
Investigations into the incident continue.
The Israeli military also released a recording they said was between two Hamas militants discussing the blast, during which the speakers say it was believed to be an Islamic Jihad misfire.
Hagari said Israeli intelligence would be shared with U.S. and British officials. He also questioned the death toll provided by Gaza’s Hamas-led Health Ministry.
Since the war began, roughly 450 rockets fired at Israel by militant groups had landed in Gaza, the Israeli military said.
Hamas meanwhile, continued to blame Israel and said that Biden was merely parroting Israel’s agenda.
“The occupation is directly responsible for the Baptist Hospital massacre, and its blatant lies will not deceive anyone,” Hamas said, referring to the al-Ahli Hospital.
“The occupation is trying in vain to evade its perpetration of the Baptist Hospital massacre, by presenting a false narrative and marketing it through blatant propaganda and talk that does not touch reality at all. This is the fascist occupation that threatened to bomb the Baptist Hospital along with 22 other hospitals and medical centers, including medical staff, patients and wounded, and they bombed 23 cars.”
Hamas also blamed the U.S., saying “this horrific massacre…took place live on air with American firepower that only the occupation possesses.”
As protests against what was perceived as an Israeli airstrike on the hospital spread, Hamas officials on Wednesday called for additional widespread public support for its cause.
“We call on our people in the West Bank, and our people in Palestine occupied in 1948, to rise up against the Zionist enemy and clash with him in all cities, villages and camps,” Hamas said on its Telegram channel.
“We also turn to our Arab and Islamic nation, and the free people of the world, to continue their demonstrations, sit-ins, and activities rejecting the war of genocide and the Zionist aggression against the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas also urged Palestinians and “the peoples of our Arab and Islamic nation” to “mobilize, rally and demonstrate in all cities and squares next Friday, so that it will be a day witnessed by the flood of our free nation in support of Palestine and in rejection of the genocide to which our people are subjected in the Gaza Strip.”
In addition, Hamas called on “the free people of the world, in all countries, to demonstrate next Sunday, with roaring crowds, in support of the justice of the Palestinian cause, and in rejection of the massacres, war crimes and genocide committed against our Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Wednesday issued an ominous warning to Israel via Twitter.
“After the terrible crime of the Zionist regime in the bombing and massacre of more than a thousand innocent women and children in the hospital #المعمدانی the time has come for the global unity of humanity against this fake regime more hated than ISIS and its killing machine. Time is OVER.”
He also said members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) should impose an oil embargo and other sanctions on Israel and expel all Israeli ambassadors,” according to The Jerusalem Post.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues in Israel.
As Israel carried out additional airstrikes in Gaza Wednesday as we previously mentioned in this story. Hamas has continued to fire rockets into Israel.
In the north, Israel said it has continued to trade fire with Hezbollah fighters that are firing anti-tank and other weapons from across the border in Lebanon.
Hezbollah released video it says shows its snipers taking out IDF surveillance equipment along the Lebanese border, akin to what Hamas did before the Oct. 7 attack to IDF surveillance equipment along the Gaza border.
There is still no direct indication, however, that Hezbollah plans to launch an all-out attack.
Still, Saudi Arabia called on its citizens to leave Lebanon, according to Al Arabiya.
The Saudi Embassy in Lebanon said it was closely following developments in south Lebanon, “calling on all citizens to adhere to the travel ban and to leave Lebanese territory immediately for those who are currently in Lebanon.”
This is a developing story and we will provide additional information as it becomes available.
Update: 4:50 PM EST -
Biden said on Wednesday Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has agreed to open the Rafah crossing to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.
"Sisi deserves some real credit because he was accommodating," Biden told reporters, according to The Jerusalem Post.
U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), the chair and vice-chair respectively of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released a statement saying they were "confident" that the deadly al-Ahli hospital explosion was the result of a failed military rocket, not Israel. They did not provide details about how they came to that conclusion.
Senior Israeli officials stated that Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Galant and Minister Benny Gantz told Biden that the move to dismantle Hamas and change the reality in Gaza would be lengthy. "It could take years," Gantz said, according to Axios reporter Barak Ravid.
Gantz made similar comments during a funeral on Wednesday, adding that the war could potentially including a northern front as well.
“It will take a long time. The war in the south — and if need be also in the north or anywhere else — might take months, and the rebuilding will take years," he said, according to The Times of Israel. "Only when [the rebuilding] is complete will we be victorious,” Gantz said at the funeral for Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, who was killed fighting Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7.
“Our goal is not just to defeat Hamas, but to promise that the south will be 100% paradise,” he added. “After the war, after we win, on any front that we fight, we will be dedicated to this rebuilding."
Boeing “is speeding delivery to Israel of as many as 1,800 kits that convert unguided bombs into precision munitions,” Bloomberg reported Wednesday, citing congressional aides and a US official.The expedited deliveries of Joint Attack Direct Munition, or JDAM, kits from Boeing to the Israeli government stem from a 2021 Direct Commercial Sale valued at about $735 million, the publication reported.
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