survivors of the al-Ahli Hospital attack in  Gaza City

Injured Palestinians are taken to Al-Shifa Hospital following an attack on tha al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Gaza on October 17, 2023.

(Photo: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Protests Erupt as Israel, Palestinians Trade Blame After Gaza Hospital Strike Kills Hundreds

"The death toll right now is more than 500, but we believe that number will reach more than 1,000," said one Gaza medical doctor.

Authorities in Gaza said Tuesday night that an Israel Defense Forces airstrike on a hospital holding thousands of patients, staff, and people seeking shelter from Israel's relentless bombardment killed at least 500 civilians, while IDF officials blamed the deaths on a botched Islamic Jihad rocket attack.

Photos and videos from al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City posted on social media showed bodies and body parts scattered about in the fiery aftermath of the blast. One video shared by senior Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem reportedly shows the moment when a rocket or missile strikes the Anglican-run hospital, causing a massive, earth-shaking explosion.

"The death toll right now is more than 500, but we believe that number will reach more than 1000," Ziad Shehadah, a medical doctor and resident of Gaza, told Al Jazeera. "It is a massacre."

Ghassan Abu Sittah, a physician with the international charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), said on social media: "We were operating in the hospital, there was a strong explosion, and the ceiling fell on the operating room. This is a massacre."

MSF said that "nothing justifies this shocking attack on a hospital and its many patients and health workers, as well as the people who sought shelter there."

"Hospitals are not a target. This bloodshed must stop. Enough is enough," the group added.

Many Gazans had fled to the hospital after Israeli authorities ordered 1.1 million Palestinians to flee for their lives—an alleged war crime compared to the Nakba ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Palestine during the establishment of the modern state of Israel—amid a bombing campaign that has killed more than 3,500 people, including over 1,000 children, since October 7.

"What's s happened is terrible because those people, all of them are civilians. They fled their homes and reached a place that they believed was safe—a hospital, which according to international law, is a safe place," Shehadah said. "People left their homes thinking they were more dangerous and they move to our schools and hospitals to be safe. And in one minute, all of them have been killed at a hospital."

Referring to the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative party, told Al Jazeera that "what happened is nothing but a deliberate war crime by the war criminal Netanyahu and his war cabinet."

"These people have committed another massacre against the Palestinian people," he continued. "They attacked a hospital. This is not only unacceptable, it's so savage.. attacking a hospital where people are taking refuge from the places that were bombarded by Israelis and forced to leave, trying to find some safe passage in the hospital or near the hospital. This means there are no safe places for Palestinians."

"This was a genocide committed in front of the whole world in a place that should be safe," he added.

On Monday, Netanyahu called Palestinian civilians "the children of darkness," while calling Israel's war on Gaza "a struggle between humanity and the law of the jungle."

IDF spokesperson Daniel Hagari declared last week that in this war, "the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy."

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted that the WHO "strongly condemns the attack on al-Alhi Arab Hospital in north Gaza."

"Early reports indicate hundreds of deaths and injuries," he added. "We call for the immediate protection of civilians and health care, and for the evacuation orders to be reversed."

Hamas—which governs Gaza and whose fighters led the surprise attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers—called the hospital attack "a crime of genocide."

"The hospital massacre confirms the enemy's brutality and the extent of his feeling of defeat," said Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who called the attack "a new turning point."

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) blamed "a failed Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket" for the blast.

"From an analysis of the IDF's operational systems, an enemy rocket barrage was carried out towards Israel, which passed in the vicinity of the hospital, when it was hit," the IDF claimed.

However, critics noted that the IDF is known to deny and deflect responsibility for its deadly attacks on Palestinian civilians, including Palestinian American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh.

Others pointed out that Israeli forces have already bombed al-Ahli Hospital during the current war on Gaza.

On Sunday, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said that four al-Ahli staff members were injured "by Israeli rocket fire" during a Saturday night attack.

"The evil and barbaric terror attacks on Israelis by Hamas were a blasphemous outrage," Welby said. "But the civilians of Gaza are not responsible for the crimes of Hamas."

The hospital attack sparked large protests in the illegally occupied West Bank, as well as in cities throughout the Middle East and around the world. Demonstrations took place in Tuesday night in Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Syria, Tunisia, and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Philippe Lazzarini, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), said at least six civilians were killed Monday afternoon when one of the agency's schools being used as a shelter in the al-Maghazi refugee camp was bombed.

"Dozens were injured, including UNRWA staff, and severe structural damage was caused to the school," Lazzarini said. "The numbers are likely to be higher. This is outrageous, and it again shows a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians."

"At least 4,000 people have taken refuge in this UNRWA school-turned-shelter," he added. "They had and still have nowhere else to go. No place is safe in Gaza anymore, not even UNRWA facilities."

Israeli has attacked U.N. schools in previous assaults on Gaza and blamed it on Palestinian militants.

The hospital and school attacks occurred on the eve of a trip to Israel by U.S. President Joe Biden. The president has declared his "rock-solid and unwavering support" for Israel, which receives nearly $4 billion in annual U.S. military aid.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for three days of mourning for victims of the hospital attack and canceled a meeting with Biden planned for Wednesday, according toNPR.

In the wake of the hospital attack, Russia and the United Arab Emirates called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday, the Security Council rejected a Russian draft resolution calling for a humanitarian cease-fire in Gaza. The U.S., United Kingdom, France, and Japan voted against the resolution.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.