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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Israeli airstrike hits Gaza hospital, killing 500, Palestinian Health Ministry says

Mourners embrace each other during a funeral for the Kutz family who were killed by Hamas militants, in Gan-Yavne, Israel, on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023.

By Hiba Yazbek and Matthew Rosenberg

At least 500 people were killed by an explosion at a hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday that Palestinian authorities said was caused by an Israeli airstrike.

The Palestinian Health Ministry said the number of casualties was expected to rise. Many civilians were sheltering at the Ahli Arab Hospital, better known as Al-Ma’amadani, before it was hit.

The Israeli military said it was investigating if it was responsible for the blast. “We’re checking,” said Maj. Nir Dinar, a military spokesperson. In the past, rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups have occasionally malfunctioned and hit civilian neighborhoods.

The deadly blast at the hospital came as President Joe Biden was preparing for a visit to Israel on Wednesday as conditions in besieged Gaza grew ever more desperate. What little remains of the enclave’s food, fuel and water supplies were dwindling fast Tuesday and hundreds of thousands of people were on the move, fleeing the strip’s northern half to escape a planned Israeli ground invasion.

Israel has blocked basic necessities from reaching Gaza and has launched daily airstrikes in retaliation for the Oct. 7 cross-border attacks, in which 1,400 Israelis died and 200 people were taken hostage by the Hamas militants who control the enclave.

By Tuesday, the consequences of the blockade and strikes were inescapable: Rescuers were struggling to free some 1,200 people trapped under rubble, fights were breaking out over loaves of bread, and hospitals were grappling with how to treat the rapidly growing number of wounded and ill as their generators ran short of fuel. Palestinian officials said at least 2,800 people have been killed and 10,000 others wounded in the Israeli strikes.

With the humanitarian crisis deepening, pressure mounted to immediately provide safety and aid to Gaza’s 2 million residents. Yet U.S.-led diplomatic efforts have so far yielded few results. Days of efforts to get aid through Egypt’s border with Gaza have failed to bear fruit.

Early Tuesday, the United States again expressed hope that it was close to an aid agreement and to establishing safe zones in southern Gaza, where the United Nations said 600,000 Palestinians have fled after Israel warned them to leave the north.

But Israeli forces have continued launching airstrikes into southern Gaza. Gaza’s Interior Ministry said at least 72 people were killed and dozens more were wounded in attacks on residential buildings in the cities of Khan Younis and Rafah. The Israeli military said Tuesday morning it had struck Hamas targets.

Here is what else to know:

— After visiting Israel on Wednesday, Biden plans to travel to Jordan to hold talks on the conflict with King Abdullah II, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, the White House said.

— As Secretary of State Antony Blinken continues a week of shuttle diplomacy in the Middle East, a senior State Department official said U.S. and Israeli officials had agreed to develop a plan to get humanitarian aid into Gaza and set up “safe zones.” The outlines of a deal, which would be negotiated by a new U.S. envoy, came after Blinken met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for nearly nine hours Monday.

— Hamas said that one of its commanders, Ayman Nofal, was killed in an Israeli strike on a refugee camp in central Gaza. The statement identified him as a commander in the Qassam Brigades, the group’s military wing.

— Hamas released a hostage video showing Mia Schem, a 21-year-old woman who was abducted during its massacre at a music festival, one of the approximately 200 people believed to have been taken hostage by the group on Oct. 7. On Tuesday, Schem’s mother pleaded for her release, saying: “All I want from world leaders is to bring my baby home.”

— Iran’s foreign minister, returning from a visit with the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria, warned that Iran’s closest allies would open “multiple fronts” against Israel if its attacks keep killing civilians in Gaza.

— The Pentagon ordered about 2,000 more U.S. troops to prepare to deploy to the Middle East, adding to a growing number of U.S. warships and forces in the region in an effort to contain the conflict. The troops would be on hand to provide advice and medical support to Israeli forces, not take part in combat, Pentagon officials said.

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