US President Joe Biden visits Israel, Jordan trip cancelled after Gaza hospital blast

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, greets U.S. President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Oct. 18, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas.[VOA]

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived Wednesday in Israel amid a heightened conflict following a massive explosion at a Gaza hospital that prompted competing accusations of blame and protests across the region.

While Biden was due to meet with Israel leaders in a show of support for the longtime U.S. ally, a key meeting in Jordan with Arab leaders was canceled following the blast.

Hamas militants blamed Israel for the explosion at Gaza City's Ahli Arab Hospital, calling it "a crime of genocide that once again reveals the ugly face of this criminal enemy and its fascist and terrorist government."

It said in a statement that there were "hundreds of casualties, most of them displaced families, patients, children and women." Palestinian authorities said about 500 people had been killed.

People inspect the area of Ahli Arab hospital, where hundreds of Palestinians were killed in a blast that Israeli and Palestinian officials blamed on each other, and where Palestinians who fled their homes were sheltering amid the ongoing conflict, in Gaza City, Oct. 18, 2023.

The Israel Defense Forces denied being at fault, saying an errant rocket fired by the paramilitary Palestinian Islamic Jihad hit the hospital site. The militant group denied responsibility.

IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters Wednesday there was no structural damage to buildings, nor a crater, that would be consistent with an Israeli airstrike. He also accused Hamas of inflating the number of casualties.

Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he was “deeply saddened and outraged by the explosion at the hospital,” and that “based on what I’ve seen, it was done by the other team, not you.”

The U.S. leader pledged to ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.

After Tel Aviv, Biden had been scheduled to continue to Amman, Jordan, but after the Gaza hospital attack, the trip was canceled as leaders of countries neighboring Israel – King Abdullah of Jordan and President Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi of Egypt – decided against holding the summit with Biden and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour said Tuesday, “Our Jordanian brothers said we cannot have a summit with these conditions. ... Only [one] thing would make sense — if he’d [Biden] make a cease-fire and say, ‘I’m coming to force implementation of it.’”

The White House released a statement at roughly the time of Biden’s departure.

“After consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, President Biden will postpone his travel to Jordan and the planned meeting with these two leaders and President Sisi of Egypt,” the statement said.


European Council President Charles Michel said Tuesday that what Israel has done in cutting access to basic services such as water, food and electricity “is not in line with the international law."

Abbas returned to Ramallah, where thousands of Palestinians protested the hospital attack. Protests also ignited Tuesday in cities across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Iran and Turkey.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire to allow for Hamas to release the hostages it is holding and for Israel to allow unrestricted humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

Oct. 7 attack

Hamas, which launched the Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel that killed 1,400 people, has long refused to recognize the Jewish state. Israel imposed a blockade on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza after Hamas took control of the territory in 2007.

In response to the Oct. 7 attack, Israel has put Gaza under a total siege and subjected it to an intense bombardment. It has vowed to annihilate Hamas. Some 3,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 12,500 wounded, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a Brazilian-drafted resolution that calls for humanitarian pauses in the conflict between Israel and Hamas to allow humanitarian aid access to the Gaza Strip.

The council is also expected to discuss — at the request of the United Arab Emirates and Russia — the Gaza hospital blast, diplomats said.

Israel in recent days has ordered Palestinian civilians living in the northern half of Gaza to head to the southern reaches of the territory along the Mediterranean Sea. About 600,000 people in cars and on foot have heeded the Israeli demand.

But Israeli forces have continued to launch airstrikes into southern Gaza, including on Tuesday morning, along with attacks on Hamas targets in the north.

The humanitarian crisis has grown increasingly dire in Gaza. Israel has blocked basic necessities from reaching the territory. There is limited electricity and diminishing supplies of food and water, while hospitals say they are hard-pressed to treat the wounded.