Arab press largely unswayed by Israeli evidence terror rocket caused hospital blast

With exception of some Gulf-based outlets, Arab media doesn’t give much credence to US-endorsed data showing Gaza explosion caused by PIJ fire, slams West for supporting Israel

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Hundreds of Moroccans take part in a protest, in Rabat, Morocco,  October 17, 2023, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza following an explosion near the Al-Ahli, or Baptist hospital, which was inaccurately ascribed to the IDF. (AP Photo)
Hundreds of Moroccans take part in a protest, in Rabat, Morocco, October 17, 2023, in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza following an explosion near the Al-Ahli, or Baptist hospital, which was inaccurately ascribed to the IDF. (AP Photo)

Arab media outlets for the most part did not change their coverage of Tuesday night’s Gaza hospital blast despite Israel producing evidence that the destruction at the site was caused by a rocket launched by the Islamic Jihad from inside Gaza, not an Israeli airstrike.

Angry crowds took to the streets in the West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere in the region on Tuesday night, as popular fury erupted over the ostensible high death toll claimed by Hamas in the Gaza explosion attributed to Israel.

Arab foreign ministers, including from countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, unanimously blamed the IDF for the incident, with several noting in their statements that 500 Palestinians died in the blast, although the figures provided by the Hamas health ministry have not been corroborated.

The IDF presented evidence to support its assertion that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists, and not by an Israeli airstrike, including a recording of an intercepted conversation between Hamas officials saying the explosion was caused by a Palestinian Islamic Jihad projectile that fell short.

But even the UAE, considered one of the countries in the region with the best diplomatic relations with Jerusalem, and Saudi Arabia, which had been on the way to normalize ties with Israel before the war erupted, said in separate statements that they “strongly condemn the Israeli attack.”

Still, news outlets from the two Gulf oil monarchies, such as the Saudi Arab News and the UAE-based Khaleej Times and Gulf News, painted a relatively neutral picture of Tuesday night’s blast, stating that Israel and Hamas have traded blame for the tragedy.

The New Arab, a pan-Arab paper based in London, also presented a nuanced version of events in its English-language version, but its Arabic edition accused Israel of committing “genocide” in its alleged attack on the hospital, and denounced US President Joe Biden for adopting the Israeli narrative.

Al Jazeera, a news channel owned by the Hamas-sponsoring Qatari government, also blamed the hospital blast on an IDF air raid, accusing Israel of committing a “massacre.”

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari shows the press a graphic of alleged rocket launches near al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza at a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

In Egypt and Jordan, the press also presented a fairly unilateral version of events, accepting Hamas’s narrative in spite of the IDF’s clarifications endorsed by US President Joe Biden.

Egypt and Jordan are the Arab countries with the longest-lasting peace agreements with Israel. They are considered, however, a “cold peace,” since diplomatic and security cooperation has never translated into ties between the peoples, and public opinion in the two countries still remains highly hostile to Israel decades after treaties were signed.

Both countries share a border with Israel and the Palestinian territories, and both have expressed concerns of a possible influx of Palestinian refugees as a result of the war.

The Jordan Times deplored the West’s alleged double standards, quoting an activist who said that “we always hear the West boasting about ensuring the human rights of people in practice and in conventions, but this is not being applied in the case of Gazans.”

An op-ed by journalist Amer al-Sabaileh in the same paper accused Israel of destabilizing the whole region not only through its war in Gaza, but also with its frequent attacks on Syrian airports. While the IDF has never claimed responsibility for individual raids, Israel has acknowledged committing airstrikes as a policy to counter the smuggling of Iranian weapons to its Lebanese terror proxy Hezbollah using flights via Syria.

Protesters hold a Palestinian flag reading ”Al-Aqsa flood” in Arabic, as they leave Friday prayers at Azhar mosque, the Sunni Muslim world’s premier Islamic institution, in Cairo, Egypt, Friday, Oct. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In the Egyptian Ahram paper, an op-ed penned by Salman Abu Sitta lambasted European leaders for “ falling over each other to pay tribute to the Zionist state of Israel.” The piece, titled “The return of the barbarians,” compared the visits by Western leaders to Israel since the start of the war to the invasion of the Holy Land by 11th-century Crusaders, noting that “the Crusaders are gone, but their bloody record is remembered.”

Morocco, another Arab country that normalized relations with Israel in 2020 under the framework of the Abraham Accords after the UAE did, also largely ignored the Israeli version of events. An op-ed by Samir Shawky in the Al-Yaoum 24 news website said that the violence of the Mongols, who wreaked havoc in the Arab world in the 13th century, paled in comparison to the “barbarism” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government against Gaza, and lambasted the “hypocritical West” for adopting and repeating the Israeli narrative.

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