Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Ben Gurion International Airport following a solidarity visit to Israel on Wednesday. AFP
President Joe Biden said on Wednesday that Israel had agreed to allow humanitarian assistance to begin flowing into Gaza from Egypt, with the understanding that shipments would be subject to inspections and that aid should go to civilians.
Israel had cut off the flow of food, fuel and water to the Gaza Strip after the attack by Hamas, in which nearly 1,400 people in Israel were killed.
Biden said the United States would do everything it could to ensure Israel was safe while also urging Israelis not to be consumed by rage, reiterating that the vast majority of Palestinians were not affiliated with Hamas.
The Gaza health ministry said 3,478 Palestinians have been killed and 12,065 injured in Israeli air strikes on the besieged enclave since Oct 7.
Biden said the US would provide $100 million in new funding for humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He also said he would ask Congress for an "unprecedented" aid package this week, before flying out of Israel after what ended up being a less than eight-hour visit.
Biden faced intense pressure to secure a clear Israeli commitment to let aid into Gaza from Egypt, to ease the plight of civilians in the small, densely populated coastal enclave.
At the end of his visit, Netanyahu's office put out a statement saying Israel would let food, water and medicines reach southern Gaza via Egypt. It reiterated that it would not let aid in from Israel until Hamas released Israeli hostages.
Mediators have been struggling to break a deadlock over providing supplies to desperate civilians, aid groups and hospitals. An explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital compounded the suffering. Israel confirmed that food, water and medicine would begin to flow to Gaza through Egypt, though exactly when that would begin wasn't immediately clear.
Joe Biden meets with Israeli first responders, family members and other citizens directly impacted by the Oct.7 attack, in Tel Aviv. Reuters
Intensifying bombardments near towns in southern Gaza where Israel had ordered civilians to take refuge are rattling the people gathered there.
Thousands of people trying to escape Gaza are gathered in Rafah, which has the territory’s only border crossing to Egypt. Mediators are pressing for an agreement to let aid in and refugees with foreign passports out.
An injured person is taken into a hospital after hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a blast at Al Ahli hospital. Reuters
There were conflicting claims of who was responsible for the hospital blast. Officials in Gaza quickly blamed an Israeli airstrike. Israel denied it was involved and released a flurry of video, audio and other information that it said showed the blast was instead due to a missile misfire by Islamic Jihad. The Islamic Jihad dismissed that claim. The Associated Press has not independently verified any of the claims or evidence released by the parties.
Biden also announced an additional $100 million in humanitarian aid for Gaza and the West Bank.
Biden had also been scheduled to visit Jordan to meet with Arab leaders on Wednesday, but the summit was called off after the hospital explosion. His remarks in Tel Aviv spoke both to the horrors that the Israelis had endured, but also the growing humanitarian crisis for Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
US Charge d'affaires to Israel Stephanie Hallett (2nd R) and others listen while Joe Biden speaks after meeting with people in Tel Aviv. AFP
He told Netanyahu he was "deeply saddened and outraged” by the hospital explosion. But he also stressed that "Hamas does not represent all the Palestinian people, and it has brought them only suffering.” And he spoke of the need to find ways of "encouraging life-saving capacity to help the Palestinians who are innocent, caught in the middle of this.”
Israel blamed the blast at Al Ahli Al Arabi hospital on a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian group, which denied responsibility. Palestinian officials said an Israeli air strike hit the hospital, with the Palestinian Authority's health minister accusing Israel of causing a "massacre." Palestinian ministry spokesperson Ashraf Al Qudra said rescuers were still pulling bodies from the rubble.
Al Jazeera carried footage showing a frantic scene as rescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors. Rescuers and civilians were shown carrying away at least four victims in body bags. A Gaza civil defence chief gave a death toll of 300, while health ministry sources put it at 500.
Media footage shows a frantic scene as rescue workers scoured blood-stained debris for survivors. Reuters
Roughly 2,800 Palestinians have been reported killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza. Another 1,200 people are believed to be buried under the rubble, alive or dead, health authorities said. Those numbers predate the explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital on Tuesday.
Protests swept through the region after the blast at the hospital, which had been treating wounded Palestinians and sheltering many more who were seeking a refuge from the fighting.
Hundreds of Palestinians flooded the streets of major West Bank cities including Ramallah. More people joined protests that erupted in Beirut, Lebanon and Amman, Jordan, where an angry crowd gathered outside the Israeli embassy.
Associated Press /Reuters
US President's visit will also seek to avert a regional conflagration with Hamas backer Iran, which on Monday warned of a possible "pre-emptive action" against Israel "in the coming hours".
The number of Palestinians killed in the war passed 10,300, including more than 4,200 children, the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza said on Tuesday.
An Israeli army spokesperson told the media that the incident was under investigation. The official Palestinian news agency Wafa said three men were injured when the "undercover" forces raided the camp overnight.
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