Protesters across Middle East blame Israel for Gaza hospital blast, despite evidence

Rallies held in numerous locations amid calls for ‘day of rage’ over explosion that Israel insists was caused by Palestinian rocket; embassies in Egypt, Morocco evacuated

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in the city of Ramallah, in the West Bank on October 18, 2023. (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)
Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in the city of Ramallah, in the West Bank on October 18, 2023. (YURI CORTEZ / AFP)

An explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital that allegedly killed at least 200 people has unleashed a torrent of protest across the Arab world, with even allies blaming Israel for the attack, despite Jerusalem presenting what it says is compelling evidence that the blast was caused by a failed rocket launch by Palestinian terrorists inside the enclave.

Denunciations were voiced and angry rallies took place in Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, Turkey, Morocco, Iran, and the West Bank, with more planned following calls for a “day of rage” across the region.

The unrest has prompted the Israel to evacuate its embassies in Morocco and Egypt. In addition, security readiness at Israel’s embassies around the world has been raised to its highest level. Envoys have been told to stay at home as much as possible. In some sensitive locations, envoys have been moved to safer countries, the Ynet outlet reported, without specifying which envoys.

The Tuesday night incident at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital came amid a war that erupted on October 7 when the Hamas terror group abruptly attacked Israel with thousands of rockets while over 1,500 of its gunmen launched a ground incursion through the border, slaughtering 1,400 people, the vast majority of them civilians. Some 200 people were abducted and taken hostage in Gaza and Hamas has continued to rain rockets on southern and central Israel. Israel has responded with intensive strikes in the Gaza Strip and has announced its intention of toppling Hamas, which rules the Strip, and eradicating it.

Israel and Palestinian terror groups have been trading blame for the hospital blast. Hamas immediately claimed it was an Israeli strike while Israel in the ensuing hours began to provide mounting evidence showing that a rocket launched at Israel by another terror group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, misfired and hit the hospital parking lot. Islamic Jihad denied it caused the explosion. Visiting Israel, US President Joe Biden endorsed the Israeli account, saying his conclusion was based on US Defense Department data.

The IDF has accused global media outlets of accepting Hamas’s “lies” about the incident. Hamas swiftly claimed 500 people were killed in the blast and that a strike had directly hit the hospital, flattening the building. Israel has noted the group could not have tallied that number of deaths so quickly after the explosion. Video of the aftermath of the incident shows the explosion happened in the parking lot, scorching cars, but no large crater as would be expected from the kind of munitions Israel has been dropping on targets. Surrounding buildings also appeared to show no structural damage.

Iraq, which blamed Israeli authorities, demanded an “immediate and urgent resolution” from the UN Security Council to stop Israel’s attacks on Gaza, as hundreds protested in the capital Baghdad, brandishing Palestinian flags.

Palestinians check the site of an explosion at al-Ahli hospital, in Gaza City, October 18, 2023. (Abed Khaled/AP)

Libya’s Tripoli-based internationally recognized government called the hospital explosion a “despicable crime” as several hundred people protested in the capital and other Libyan cities.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah terror movement called for a “day of rage” against Israel, with hundreds rallying at the US and French embassies overnight, where they scuffled with security forces.

More protests were planned for Wednesday, with Lebanon joining other Arab states in declaring a day of national mourning.

In Tunisia, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters rallied outside the French embassy, condemning Western support for Israel. Some protesters were waving Palestinian flags while others demanded the ambassador be expelled, accusing France of being among the Western “allies of the Zionists,” AFP journalists reported.

A second protest was due to be held outside the US embassy in Tunis later in the day, with rallies also expected in provincial towns and cities, organizers said.

Speaking at an overnight meeting of his National Security Council, Tunisian President Kais Saied condemned the “international silence” about the “genocide” he said was being perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinian people.

People gather outside the Israeli consulate during a protest to show solidarity with Palestinians, in Istanbul, Turkey, October 17, 2023. (Emrah Gurel/AP)

Around 5,000 Jordanians gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Amman on Wednesday to protest the hospital deaths. Security forces blocked off roads leading to the embassy but the size of the demonstration looked set to swell amid a wave of anger in Jordan, home to many Palestinian refugees.

Jordan, which has normalized ties with Israel, said the Jewish state “bears responsibility for this grave incident,” while Qatar, which has close ties to Hamas, slammed the “brutal massacre.”

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which both established ties with Israel in the Abraham Accords of 2020, as well as Morocco, which recognized Israel in 2020, and Egypt, which became the first Arab country to normalize relations in 1979, all condemned the “Israeli” attack.

Thousands of people demonstrated across Egypt in solidarity with Gaza, Egyptian media reported.

People lift placards and Palestinian flags during a protest in Libya’s capital Tripoli late on October 17, 2023, in support of Palestinians after a blast hit the parking lot of Ahli Arab hospital in central Gaza. (Photo by Mahmud TURKIA / AFP)

Students rallied in Egyptian universities and a smaller protest was held near the US Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi had said that if he would call for protests in support of the Palestinian cause, “you would see millions” on the streets of Egypt — where protests are banned.

Palestinian protesters took to the streets in the West Bank, also blaming Israel for the hospital explosion.

Hundreds of protesters in Nablus, many draped in Palestinian flags and some holding Hamas banners, chanted slogans against Israel and its ally the United States.

“Free, free Palestine,” chanted the protesters.

Others derided Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah movement is Hamas’s rival and has been criticized by Palestinians over its cooperation with Israel.

“Down, down with Abbas,” they chanted.

Demonstrators chant slogans during a protest in solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza, at Martyrs’ Square in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, October 17, 2023. (Bilal Hussein/AP)

An AFP correspondent in Nablus said Palestinian security forces fired tear gas at protesters as they marched out of the city center.

A similar-sized protest took place in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, where the crowd chanted in support of Hamas and against “security coordination” with Israel.

A demonstration late Tuesday in Ramallah, a short while after the hospital blast, saw Palestinian security forces clash with protesters.

In Turkey on Tuesday, 63 people including 43 police officers were hurt during protests outside the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, the governor’s office said.

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters when several demonstrators tried to overcome security barricades in order to enter the consulate building. Police detained five people.

The governor’s office said a 65-year-old man had a heart attack during the protests and later died in the hospital.

Large crowds joined the demonstrations in Istanbul and the Turkish capital Ankara, shouting pro-Palestinian chants.

Israel has told its citizens to leave Turkey “as soon as possible” amid fears of reprisal attacks.

After touching down in Tel Aviv Wednesday morning, US President Joe Biden threw his support behind Israel’s account of the explosion, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “it appears as though it was done by the other team.”

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said UK intelligence services were “rapidly analyzing the evidence to independently establish the facts” behind the devastating explosion at the Gaza hospital.

Sunak urged lawmakers in the House of Commons not to “rush to judgment” about the blast.

Calling it an “awful situation,” Sunak said: “Every member will know that the words we say here have an impact beyond this House.”

He added: “The Israeli president has made it very clear that their armed forces will operate in accordance with international law, and we will continue to urge the Israelis to take every precaution to avoid harming civilians.”

Around 3,000 people have been killed in Gaza as a result of Israeli airstrikes, according to the Hamas-controlled health ministry. Israel says many of the Gaza dead were killed by terrorists’ rockets falling short in the Strip.

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