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Biden in Tel Aviv for support after 500 killed in strike on Gaza hospital

The health ministry in the Gaza Strip says hundreds of victims are trapped under the rubble of the Ahli Arab Hospital after up to 500 people were killed in Israeli airstrikes on Tuesday. 

US President Biden landed just before 11 a.m. local (4 a.m. eastern) in Tel Aviv on Wednesday to signal Washington’s support, his second visit to a war zone this year.

Biden, who has expressed “iron-clad” support for Israel in its war on Gaza, was welcomed on the tarmac by hardline prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The US president immediately voiced support for Israel’s deflection of responsibility for the airstrike, claiming that a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket had hit the al-Ahli al-Arab Hospital.

“I was deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital in Gaza yesterday,” Biden said at a meeting with Netanyahu.

“And, based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” said the US president, referring to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

But the horror of the hospital deaths threatened to derail his high-stakes visit, with Jordan cancelling a summit where King Abdullah II had been due to host Biden, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Thousands of civilians were seeking medical treatment and shelter in the hospital from relentless Israeli airstrikes when the attack took place.

The attack is the deadliest Israeli airstrike since 2008, the Palestinian Civil Defense said.

“The massacre at the Ahli Arab Hospital is unprecedented in our history. While we’ve witnessed tragedies in past wars and days, but what took place tonight is tantamount to genocide,” spokesman Mahmoud Basal said.

The media office of Hamas described the attack as a “war crime.”

“The hospital was housing hundreds of sick and wounded, and people forcibly displaced from their homes” because of other strikes, a statement said.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) condemned the Israeli attack as genocide.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning following the Israeli air strike.

Photos from the Ahli Arab Hospital showed fire engulfing the hospital halls, shattered glass and body parts scattered across the area.

Biden has strongly backed top ally Israel and its military campaign after 1,400 people were killed in Israel in a surprise operation launched by Hamas on October 7.

The visit followed head of US Central Command Gen. Erik Kurilla’s arrival in Tel Aviv for meetings with Israeli military authorities a day earlier.

Israel’s military campaign had already left at least 3,000 dead inside Gaza before the hospital was destroyed.

Entire Gaza neighborhoods have been razed and survivors are left with dwindling supplies of food, water and fuel, unable to flee the 40-kilometer long strip that has been blockaded since 2007 by Israel and Egypt.

The situation in the Gaza Strip is spiraling out of control, head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned on Wednesday.

“Every second we wait to get medical aid in, we lose lives,” he said. “We need immediate access to start delivering life-saving supplies.”

Raz Segal, a Holocaust and genocide studies expert, speaking to Democracy Now in a televised interview, said “what we are seeing now in Gaza is a case of genocide”.

UNRWA, the refugee agency, said at least six Palestinians sheltering in one of their schools located in the al-Maghazai refugee camp were killed Tuesday by Israeli bombing.

The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) accused the UK government and arms industry of complicity in war crimes committed by the Israeli government.

In a statement, CAAT said it is demanding the government revoke all licenses for arms exports, and are backing the calls from Palestinian trade unions for workers to refuse to build or export weapons to Israel.

On the ground in Gaza, the blast at the Christian-run hospital brought new chaos and suffering Tuesday night, as the dead were pulled from the rubble and the wounded were rushed to nearby medical centers.

Scores of bodies cloaked in blood-stained sheets and white plastic wrap soon lined the floors at the nearby the al-Shifa hospital, where stunned and bereaved relatives tried to identify loved ones.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said hundreds died including women, children, staff and “internally displaced people seeking safe shelter”.

Ghassan Abu Sittah, a doctor with the charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), recounted that “we were operating in the hospital. There was a strong explosion and the ceiling fell on the operating room”.

“Hospitals are not a target,” he said. “This bloodshed must stop. Enough is enough.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby represents the Anglican church, which runs the Ahli Arab Hospital.

He said the hospital was one of several medical facilities in northern Gaza subject to evacuation orders and that it had already been hit by “Israeli rocket fire” on October 14, which wounded four staff.

According to World Health Organization figures, there have been more than 100 attacks on hospitals, ambulances and other health care assets since October 7.

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