The blast at al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza on Tuesday night is an inflection point that could change the trajectory of the Israel-Hamas war. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, 471 Palestinians were killed and more than 314 people were wounded. The White House national security council has said in a statement that “hundreds” of civilians were killed. At the time of the explosion, the hospital was crowded with casualties. Emma Graham-Harrison’s report from Jerusalem unsparingly details the chaos that ensued after the explosion.
The blast sparked widespread international condemnation and protests have erupted across the Middle East and north Africa. The Hamas side blamed an Israeli airstrike for the tragedy, while the Israeli military produced evidence that it said showed the blast was the result of a rocket that was launched by the militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad and misfired. That group has denied responsibility.
The fallout has been far-reaching. After a meeting with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the US president, Joe Biden, was supposed to meet the Jordanian and Egyptian heads of state and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. However, after the blast at the hospital the meetings were cancelled.
For today’s newsletter, I spoke with Ruth Michaelson, reporting from Israel and the Palestinian territories for the Guardian, about the likely consequences of the hospital blast and how it could affect the next stages of the conflict.
Table of Contents
Five big stories
Israel-Hamas war | About 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid will enter Gaza from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula in the coming days, according to the White House, after President Joe Biden’s whirlwind visit to Israel that came in the aftermath of a deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza.
Police | The Metropolitan police have admitted that a 13-year-old boy playing with a water pistol was rammed off his bike by armed police, knocked to the ground and officers pointed their submachine guns at him.
Dangerous dogs | People are already handing in XL bully dogs, with some requesting that their pet be put down, after the government’s announcement of an impending ban, MPs have been told.
Arts | The British Museum was the “victim of an inside job” when approximately 2,000 artefacts were stolen from its collections, the chair of trustees, George Osborne, has said.
NHS | Naga Munchetty has said she spent decades being failed, gaslit and “never taken seriously” by doctors, despite suffering debilitatingly heavy periods, repeated vomiting and pain so severe that she would lose consciousness. The BBC presenter, newsreader and journalist told the Commons women and equalities committee on Wednesday that she was “deemed normal” and told to “suck it up” by NHS GPs.
In depth: ‘What is the long term plan for civilians? What is the long term plan for Gaza as a whole?’
While initial reports saw Israel blaming Palestinian militants and Hamas blaming Israel, there is not conclusive evidence to be certain either way. The Guardian’s report uses open-source information to piece together what happened at the hospital.
It is worth pointing out that it is not in the political or strategic interests of the Israeli government to have intentionally targeted the hospital. The explosion took place the night before Biden was due to arrive in Tel Aviv: a military attack like that would have made it extremely difficult for Washington to publicly offer their unequivocal support as targeting a hospital is a flagrant war crime.
The Israeli government has been finding it difficult to dispel Hamas’s claims however, partially because schools and civilian evacuation routes have reportedly been hit during airstrikes. Al-Ahli’s diagnostic cancer treatment centre was hit separately a few days before the latest explosion. Accounts vary as to who has been responsible for these.
Why Biden’s visit matters
The historic nature of Joe Biden’s arrival in Tel Aviv cannot be overstated – it is the first trip to Israel by an American president during an ongoing conflict, in a region gripped by unpredictable violence. The meeting was the latest public show of unwavering US support for Israel.
The cancellation of the summit with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority put the White House in quite an “awkward” position, Ruth says, because there was now “no opportunity to have public talks with other leaders and hear concerns from elsewhere, at least”.
“There was a sense in the region that because of what happened at the hospital no leader in the Arab world could be seen to sit with Biden at this moment as it would just be too damaging for them.” Without this meeting, the US’s response could be viewed as giving Israel “carte blanche” by other countries in the Middle East.
During the meeting with Netanyahu, Biden said the deadly hospital attack appeared to be done by “the other team, not you” – though he added that there were “a lot of people out there” who weren’t sure about who was responsible for the blast. Biden did not initially elaborate on why he believed the attacks were not carried out by Israel, but did say that he was “outraged” and “deeply saddened” by the blast. Comparing Hamas to Isis, Biden also said that the group “committed evils and atrocities that make Isis somewhat more rational”.
The US government has also since released an assessment saying Israel was not responsible. Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, responded by saying that “nobody is buying that narrative in this part of the world”, adding that the only thing that could change the narrative is an “independent international inquiry into the tragedy” that yields “impeccable evidence that it was not Israel”.
Netanyahu thanked Biden for his support and said Biden’s decision to visit Tel Aviv during this time was “deeply, deeply moving”. Biden reiterated that the US would give Israel anything it needed to defend itself.
How the region has reacted
In recent years, the urgency of supporting the Palestinian cause has started to wane among some Arab governments: the UAE and Bahrain normalised relations with Israel in 2020, as did Morocco. Saudi Arabia has been in talks to do the same. The hospital blast however has led to these countries significantly sharpening their language against Israel by issuing unequivocal condemnations and apportioning blame immediately. With a population of 450 million people across 22 countries, the Arab world is not homogenous, however many Arab people still sympathise immensely with the Palestinian cause and their governments are aware of that. “To those leaders it is too dangerous to be seen to be a public backer of Israel at this moment,” Ruth says.
This event has crystallised the already simmering anger felt in many countries, so much so that even the highly authoritarian government in Egypt has allowed people to protest against what is happening in Palestine. “This is a moment where the people want to be able to express themselves, and Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, understands what an incredibly dangerous moment that could be for him if he tries to curtail protests entirely as Egypt normally does,” Ruth says.
What could happen next
More than 360,000 reservists have joined the ranks of the IDF in the week and a half since the war began. The ground invasion of Gaza, which initially looked imminent, now seems to be in limbo. Not only is it clear that there would be an extremely high civilian death toll if Israel were to go ahead, Hezbollah have also warned they would consider striking northern Israel if a ground invasion took place, meaning that the war could spill into Lebanon. Israel would struggle to fight a war on two fronts – this scenario could also prompt a formal US intervention that could destabilise the whole region, so the stakes are incredibly high.
“There is no indication that the Israeli government has a long-term strategy for what would happen once they committed to a ground invasion,” Ruth says. “There has already been an enormous loss of life in Gaza, the Israeli state has already suffered a historic blow in the face of this awful massacre and the death of over 1,300 Israelis. So, what is the plan, even if they’re able to hold a little bit of territory, what happens afterwards? What is the long term plan for civilians? What is the long term plan for Gaza as a whole?” These are the questions that Ruth and other reporters will be looking to answer in the coming weeks and months.
What else we’ve been reading
Black headteachers from across the UK have penned a message for future generations of budding school leaders. The book, Letters To a Young Generation: Aspiring School Leaders was compiled by headteacher Amanda Wilson (above), who told the Guardian how important it is that all voices are heard and hopes the book will change current figures of Black representation in student leadership roles. Nyima Jobe, newsletters team
Maya Goodfellow interviewed Naomi Klein about what she found when she investigated what she called the “mirror world”, a place where conspiracies are disseminated and leftist critiques of modern capitalism are twisted to push far-right propaganda. Nimo
Two for one treatments are on the rise with some therapists now incorporating medium readings into the session. Alaina Demopoulos speaks to therapists merging spiritualism with traditional therapy methods in the US and also investigates the authenticity of this new phenomenon and what it means for client wellbeing. Nyima
Moira Donegan explains why Republicans are finding it so hard to nominate a speaker, highlighting how individualist careerism has left the House of Representatives at a standstill. Nimo
Jim Farber chatted to Cher about her upcoming Christmas album, which she was apparently vehemently against, as it seemed to be a cynical cliche for artists. She also discusses her six-decade career and how she feels about still working at 77. “Some day I won’t be able to. So, for as long as I can work, I will,” she says. Nyima
Football | Reports in Italy suggest that Newcastle’s £55m summer signing Sandro Tonali has admitted to placing bets on AC Milan matches during his time as a player at the Serie A club. Given that Tonali is cooperating with the investigation and has explained he is seeking help for what his agent terms a “gambling addiction”, he could incur a year-long ban, rather than the maximum three years possible.
Cricket | New Zealand beat Afghanistan by 149 runs to extend their winning streak at the Cricket World Cup. “It was another great performance today,” said captain Tom Latham. “We were put under pressure at times when we batted but the way we were able to overcome that and put the pressure back on them in the last 10 overs was outstanding.”
Football | Marc Skinner lambasted the format of the Women’s Champions League qualifying rounds and said there were teams going through that “weren’t good enough”, after his Manchester United side lost 3-1 to Paris Saint-Germain and missed out on a first appearance in the group stage.
The front pages
“Don’t be consumed by rage, Biden tells Israel” – the Guardian’s splash this morning after the US president’s visit. “Biden backs Israeli offensive” says the Times while the Telegraph has “Biden: don’t repeat our mistakes after 9/11” and the Daily Mirror picks up on the same line: “Biden’s message to Israel – don’t make the same mistakes that we did”. Others take a more direct route with the story of the moment: “Biden: It wasn’t Israel”, says the Sun, in reference to the deadly blast at a hospital in Gaza. The Daily Express cites “Israel’s ‘proof’ it was NOT to blame for Gaza hospital blast”. The Daily Mail seizes on an opportunity to criticise a rival: “Israeli president blasts ‘atrocious’ BBC over Hamas”, which is about the broadcaster’s policy against using “terrorists” as a blanket term for the group. “Biden backs Israel over hospital blast but seeks to broker Gaza aid package” – that’s the Financial Times. The i has Gaza as its picture lead but its main story is “Mortgage hope: UK interest rate hike unlikely”. “11 years for £50m UK dinghy kingpin” – the Metro use a catchy appellation for a freshly convicted people smuggler.
Today in Focus
Kicking out the populists: how young voters helped swing Poland’s election
Poland’s far-right Law and Justice party was a disaster for many of the country’s democratic institutions and the LGBT community. Now it appears voters have got rid of it. Shaun Walker reports from Warsaw. He tells Nosheen Iqbal that if the opposition is able to form a coalition government it is likely that the new prime minister will be Donald Tusk.
Cartoon of the day | Martin Rowson
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
The Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam has had to halt the sale of a limited edition Pokémon card that was made available at an exhibition of modern art showcasing Pokémon artists inspired by Van Gogh. Ticket touts were becoming standard practice outside the building for the past couple of weeks resulting in a notice on the website telling visitors that the Pikachu with Grey Felt Hat card will no longer be issued.
But this has not stopped exhibition goers from showing love to the art. Security say phones have been sounding for three hours on end and there were even scenes of scrambling at one of the gift stores. The Pokémon festivities continue until 7 January next year, which include the Pokémon adventure treasure hunt and interactive drawing of Pikachu workshops.
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