Officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave stated on Tuesday that Israeli air attacks on a hospital compound in Gaza killed at least 200 people, eliciting widespread criticism and outrage.
But Israel’s army blamed a rocket misfired by militants in Gaza.
Al Jazeera footage from the site showed medics and citizens using white bags or blankets to rescue bodies. In the dark hospital courtyard, bloodstains and burnt autos could be seen.
The raid occurred only hours before US President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the Middle East to balance US support for Israel with preventing its fight with Hamas from escalating into a wider regional conflict.
Since Hamas’s horrific October 7 attack on Israel, many have been murdered on both sides, with retaliatory air strikes and a siege of Gaza wreaking havoc on ordinary Palestinians.
The health ministry in Hamas-ruled Gaza reported between 200 and 300 civilians displaced by 10 days of severe bombing were murdered in “occupation (Israeli) strikes” at the Ahli Arab hospital in central Gaza, escalating tensions.
“Hundreds of victims are still under the rubble,” a statement said, calling it a “war crime”, and prompting condemnation from the World Health Organization.
Hospitals and their grounds have been viewed as safe havens for Gazans who have been forced homeless or relocated as a result of the bombing, as they have been generally spared from strikes.
According to an AFP correspondent, hundreds of protestors enraged by the Gaza strike attempted to rush the Israeli embassy in Amman.
Jordan, along with other Arab and Muslim states, condemned the hospital strike.
Separately, the UN organization that helps Palestinian refugees reported six people were killed when one of its schools for displaced families was targeted by Israeli air strikes.
Biden’s visit comes just 12 days after Palestinian militants from Hamas broke over Israel’s strongly defended Gaza border, killing, mutilating, and burning over 1,400 people.
Shell-shocked Israel has retaliated with lethal air strikes against Gazan targets, killing around 3,000 Gazans, according to a toll from the Gaza health ministry prior to the Ahli Arab raid.
In addition, Israel has placed a punishing embargo on the impoverished area and has moved tens of thousands of troops to the Gaza border in preparation for a full-scale ground offensive.
It has threatened to destroy Hamas while also attempting to free the at least 199 hostages kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza, which has published a video of one of the prisoners, French-Israeli woman Mia Shem.
Keren Shem, her mother, issued an anguished plea for her daughter’s safe return. “I am begging the world to bring my baby back home,” she said at a new conference in Tel Aviv.
Diplomatic efforts to release the captives have gained traction. Turkey stated that it was in negotiations with Hamas to gain their release.
However, there were varied feelings about how effective Biden could be, with some Palestinians accusing the US of supporting Israel and some Israelis being skeptical.
“We don’t believe anymore in politicians,” said Omer Nevo, 23. “I don’t trust anyone anymore after what has happened here.”
Israelis are still suffering after the country’s bloodiest strike in 75 years, which prompted a massive mobilization of reservists and the evacuation of civilians from districts bordering Gaza and Lebanon.
Hundreds of mourners gathered in southern Israel for the funeral of five members of the same family who were killed when extremists attacked their kibbutz at Kfar Aza.
All five coffins were draped in Israeli flags.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, back in Israel after a whistlestop regional tour, said Biden’s visit would be a statement of “solidarity with Israel” and an “ironclad commitment to its security”.
Support also came from Germany, whose Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Tel Aviv.
“The world must stand united behind Israel to defeat Hamas,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, alongside Scholz.
The United States has already dispatched two aircraft carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean “to deter hostile actions against Israel.”
The Pentagon has placed 2,000 troops on standby in order to “respond quickly to the evolving security environment in the Middle East.” According to US media, the troops would perform support functions such as medical assistance and explosives management.
Iran, which backs both Hamas and Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists, has repeatedly warned against an invasion of Gaza and on Monday raised the prospect of a “pre-emptive action” against Israel “by the resistance axis.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that “no one can stop” forces opposed to Israel if it keeps up its bombardment of Gaza.
Deadly flare-ups have rocked Israel’s northern border with Lebanon.
Israel’s army said Tuesday it had killed four militants attempting to infiltrate from Lebanon.
Hezbollah later said five of its fighters were killed “performing jihad”, taking the number of its fighters killed in the intensifying border skirmishes to 10.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby was asked on CNN whether US authorities had so far noticed Iran engaging in the conflict in new ways.
“Outside of the rhetoric…, no we haven’t,” he replied.
‘Corpses in the street’
Biden will also try to manage Israel’s military response quietly, as world concern grows about the war’s catastrophic impact on Palestinian civilians.
Entire neighborhoods have been destroyed, leaving survivors with decreasing supplies of food, water, and fuel.
According to the Gaza health ministry, hospitals are at capacity, with over 30,000 people seeking refuge at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City alone.
It stated that it was “extremely concerned” about illness outbreaks caused by inadequate water supply and sanitation.
“There are corpses in the streets. Buildings are crashing down on their inhabitants,” said Jamil Abdullah, a Palestinian-Swede, hoping to flee the blockaded enclave.
“The smell of the dead is everywhere.”
UNRWA says more than one million Palestinians — almost half of Gaza’s population of 2.4 million — have fled their homes.
An UNRWA flour storage near Gaza City was hit by an Israeli strike, an AFP photographer said. Even as the smoke was still rising from the rubble, desperate residents collected flour from the ground.
“We are dying of hunger,” said Abu Hussni al-Hujein, 60.
Israel has ordered residents of north Gaza to leave for the south, hoping to clear the area of civilians in preparation for a ground assault that would involve gruelling urban combat.
Entire families, children, and the elderly have grabbed their stuff and fled to southern Gaza, sleeping in any available area, indoors or out.
Egypt has held closed Gaza’s single non-Israeli border crossing, Rafah, implying that there is no way out.
Israel has regularly bombed the region on the Palestinian side and has disputed claims of a temporary truce agreement to reopen it.
The barrier of Rafah has so far stopped thousands of Palestinian-Americans and others from fleeing Gaza, as well as the entry of aid commodities now loaded on truck convoys waiting in Egypt.
For the time being, Gazans are trapped, and neighboring Arab countries are concerned that if Palestinians leave the enclave, they will be permanently exiled.