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Arab countries blame Israel for Al-Ahli Hospital massacre

Arab countries blame Israel for Al-Ahli Hospital massacre amid anti-US backlash
7 min read
18 October, 2023
The bombing of Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza has led to an outpouring of grief in the Arab world. On Wednesday countries squared up to exchange blame with Israel widely viewed as the culprit.
Protests against the killings erupted in Arab cities on Tuesday evening [Getty]

Survivors were rescued and the dead were removed from the smouldering ruins of the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday evening.

Medics said an Israeli airstrike on the medical compound killed hundreds of people, many of them waiting in the hospital's car park while patients and doctors inside were helpless as flames engulfed the building.

Israel, however, claimed that Palestinian armed groups were responsible for the attack.

At least 471 people were killed in the attack, with many more critically injured, making it likely the bloodiest massacre in Gaza's history.

Israel alleged, with unconvincing "proof" that changed by the hour, that a misfired Palestinian rocket hit the building.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas - the two dominant armed groups in Gaza - immediately rejected the allegations saying an Israeli airstrike was unequivocally to blame.

Since Israel's relentless and indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza began on 7 October, nearly 3,500 Palestinians have been killed.

The strikes were in response to an unprecedented Hamas attack on Israel which killed 1,400 people.

The US and most European countries have stalwartly supported Israel's "right to defend itself", but hospitals, apartment blocks, mosques, and other civilian buildings have been targeted by its airstrikes.

Where countries stand on the Al-Ahli Hospital massacre largely squares with their stances early on in the conflict - either with Israel or the people of Palestine.

The US almost immediately disseminated the Israeli narrative that a militant rocket was responsible, leading to an angry backlash from Arab nations.

President Joe Biden flew to Israel early on Wednesday where he met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with two meetings with Arab leaders planned over the coming days, in Amman and Cairo.

"I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday," Biden said as he stood on the podium with Netanyahu.

"And, based on what I've seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you."

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is also due to fly out to Israel on Thursday, has so far been silent on the massacre but did retweet a post by Foreign Minister James Cleverly, which did not attribute blame to Israel.

"The destruction of Al Ahli hospital is a devastating loss of human life. The UK has been clear. The protection of civilian life must come first. The UK will work with our allies to find out what has happened and protect innocent civilians in Gaza," the tweet read.

The hospital strike put paid to hopes of a US-Arab meeting in Amman on Wednesday, with Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority all agreeing that the summit would not take place in protest at the killings and the overall stance taken by the West.

Not all US politicians agree with the White House's unbending support for Israel, with strong resistance from some in The Squad - the firebrand, left-wing faction in the governing Democratic Party.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American member of The Squad, continued her criticism of Biden's unwavering support for Israel over the past two weeks with a tweet on Tuesday evening.

"This is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate. Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many Palestinian Americans and Muslim Americans like me," she said after the strike.

In Arab capitals, the response to the Al-Ahli airstrike has been understandably one of anger with late-night protests in Amman, Tunis, and Beirut continuing on Wednesday.

Arab governments appear to be listening to the street with some of the strongest-worded condemnations since the 7 October conflict began with even states that have relations with Israel blaming it for the hospital strike.

Egypt President Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi "denounced in the strongest terms the intentional bombing" of the Gaza hospital, further describing it as "a flagrant violation of international law", according to a statement posted on X.

The country's foreign ministry also denounced the Israeli bombing of the hospital in a statement on Facebook, describing it as an "intentional bombing of civilian facilities" and "a serious violation of international and humanitarian law".

Meanwhile, Egypt’s Al-Azhar - the highest Sunni authority in the Arab world - said in a statement on Facebook that Arab and Muslim-majority countries should "reconsider reliance on the arrogant European and American West".

Anger in Egypt - which normalised relations with Israel in 1979 - to the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza has been strong, with the Israeli embassy in Cairo evacuated on Wednesday.

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The Cairo-based Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned that "the West must stop this tragedy immediately" and warned "our Arab mechanisms document war crimes, and their perpetrators will not be able to escape justice".

The UAE and Bahrain, which normalised ties with Israel in 2020, were quick to condemn the "Israeli attack" on the hospital in a sign of growing anger at the brutal military assault on Gaza. 

Abu Dhabi's foreign ministry said in a statement shortly after the massacre that it "expressed its deep regret over the loss of life". The mention of Israel in the condemnation led to a sharp rebuke from some key Israeli figures.

The UAE has not been deterred with its mission to the UN pointing out that a day earlier it backed a Russian resolution calling for a ceasefire earlier this week.

"Ambassador Abushahab joined fellow members of the Arab Group to brief the press on the Israeli attack that targeted Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza," the statement read.

"The UAE, in a statement issued today, strongly condemns the Israeli attack that resulted in the death and injury of hundreds of people. The statement called on the international community to intensify efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire."

Other Gulf states, which have no formal relations with Israel, have also condemned the Israeli bombing.

Qatar "denounced in the strongest terms the Israeli occupation’s bombing" of the hospital and its "brutal massacre of unarmed civilians".

Kuwait also "strongly denounced the brutal bombing" and urged the UN to "put an end to these inhumane practices against the brotherly Palestinian people".

Oman's foreign ministry also condemned "the targeting of the hospital by the Israeli occupation… a war crime, genocide and violation of the international and humanitarian law".

Saudi Arabia, which had been involved in US-sponsored normalisation talks with Israel, also "denounced the heinous crime committed by Israeli occupation forces".

There has been talk, so far unproven, that the Hamas attack on 7 October, which killed 1,400 Israelis, was intended to scupper the Israel-Saudi talks and create a rift within the Arab world.

To united response to the hospital bombing has shown popular anger in the Arab world to the massacre and is a sign that Israel's normalisation push in the Arab and Muslim world could have suffered irreversible damage.