Israeli bombardment has struck a packed hospital compound in central Gaza, killing an estimated 500 people, including patients and displaced Palestinians sheltering inside, according to officials in the besieged Gaza Strip.
The health ministry in Gaza said Wednesday’s blast at the al-Ahli Arab Hospital was caused by an Israeli air raid. Israel has attributed the explosion to a misfired rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) armed group. The PIJ has denied the allegation.
The attack quickly sparked international condemnation, as news outlets and social media became filled with images of burning rooms and heavy stretchers.
“This is outrageous and again it shows a flagrant disregard for the lives of civilians,” the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) said on social media.
Jordan’s King Abdullah II, meanwhile, called the attack a “massacre” and a “shame on humanity”.
The Gaza health ministry issued a statement explaining the hospital had served a vital role in offering shelter to civilians.
“The hospital was housing hundreds of sick and wounded, and people forcibly displaced from their homes,” the ministry said.
Tens of thousands of families have flocked to Gaza’s overwhelmed hospitals seeking refuge from seemingly endless Israeli army shelling.
Al Jazeera footage from the scene showed medics and civilians recovering bodies with white bags or blankets. Bloodstains and multiple torched cars were visible in the darkened hospital courtyard.
Mustafa Barghouti, leader of the Palestinian National Initiative (PNI) political party, told Al Jazeera that the hospital attack should prompt world leaders to question their support for Israel.
“Nobody in the world even attacks hospitals in any other country of the world,” Barghouti said. “Will they condemn this Israeli massacre? Will they condemn this Israeli behaviour? They know they can stop Israel. They know they can restrain Israel. They are the ones who are giving weapons and money and support to these Israeli aggressors.”
He added that he felt civilian infrastructure was being deliberately targeted in Israeli attacks.