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Biden backs Israel amid Arab rage over hospital tragedy

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• Jordan cancels summit with US president
• US vetoes resolution seeking pause in fighting
• Israel ‘conditionally’ allows aid for Gaza through Egypt

BEIRUT: While Arab and Muslim nations on Wednesday squarely blamed Israel for the bombing of the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza that left over 470 Palestinians dead and demanded Tel Aviv’s accountability for the massacre, US President Joe Biden chose to deliver full backing to Israel by promising more aid to the country at the end of his one-day visit.

President Biden, whose impromptu trip to the Middle East was curtailed by the explosion, supported Tel Aviv’s allegation that a rocket fired by the Islamic Jihad group had caused the hospital tragedy.

“Based on the information we have seen today, it (air strike at hospital) appears the result of an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza,” the president said during his one-day visit to the Israel.

Biden’s Middle East trip was designed to calm the region, but after the hospital bombing, Jordan called off his planned summit in Amman with Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Since the US president faced intense pressure to secure a clear Israeli commitment to let aid into Gaza from Egypt, to ease the plight of civilians in the small, densely populated coastal enclave, he apparently managed to convince Israel to issue such a statement at the end of his visit.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement claiming Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt. It reiterated that it would not allow aid in from Israel until Hamas released Israeli prisoners.

However, Israel continued air strikes in Gaza on Wednesday, with reports that another mosque was targeted.

UN veto

However, at the United Nations, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution that would have called for humanitarian pauses in the Gaza conflict to allow humanitarian aid access to the besieged region.

The vote on the Brazilian-drafted text was twice delayed in the last couple of days as the United States tries to broker aid access to Gaza. Twelve members voted in favour of the draft text on Wednesday, while Russia and Britain abstained.

“We are on the ground doing the hard work of diplomacy,” US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told the 15-member council after the vote.

“We believe we need to let that diplomacy play out. Yes, resolutions are important. And yes, this council must speak out. But the actions we take must be informed by the facts on the ground and support direct diplomacy efforts. That can save lives. The council needs to get this right,” she said.

Washington traditionally shields its ally Israel from any Security Council action.

“We have just been witnesses once again of hypocrisy and the double standards of our American colleagues,” said Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. A Russian-drafted resolution that called for a humanitarian ceasefire failed to pass on Monday.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow for humanitarian aid access to Gaza.

Walking to their deaths

Just a day ago, Palestinians seeking shelter at Gaza’s Ahli Arab hospital from the ceaseless bombardment elsewhere, ironically walked straight to their deaths when it was hit.

Blood stained the walls and the ground after Tuesday’s fireball in what was normally a peaceful place that helped patients recover.

Fadel Naim, the head of orthopaedic surgery at the Ahli Arab hospital, said he had just finished a procedure when he heard a huge explosion and his department filled with people screaming for help.

“People came running into the surgery department screaming help us, help us, there are people killed and wounded inside the hospital,” he said.

“The hospital was full of dead and wounded, dismembered bodies,” he said. “We tried to save whoever could be saved, but the number was too great for the hospital team.”

Ibrahim Naqa, a doctor at the hospital, was proud of the 100-year-old Baptist hospital since it welcomed all faiths and offered patients a church and a mosque.

“This place created a safe haven for women and children, those who escaped the Israeli bombing into this hospital, those who saw this place as a safe haven,” said Dr Naqa.

“This hospital was targeted without warning. We don’t know what the shell is called, but we saw the results of it when it targeted children and ripped their bodies into pieces.”

The death toll from the hospital explosion was by far the highest of any single incident in Gaza during the current hostilities.

British-Palestinian doctor Ghassan Abusittah said the hospital had been shaking all day because of the bombing. He said he heard the sound of a missile just before a huge explosion and then the operating room ceiling collapsed on top of him and other physicians.

In the courtyard he could see bodies and limbs everywhere. He treated a man whose legs were blown off.

Abusittah said Gaza’s medical system had collapsed, with doctors scrambling for even basic resources. “We are exhausted. The number of patients just keeps getting bigger,” he said.

The scenes of destruction from the hospital were horrific even by the standards of the previous 12 days, which have confronted the world with relentless images of Palestinian families buried under rubble from Israel’s strikes.

Published in Dawn, October 19th, 2023


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