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Israel-Hamas war: Biden backs Israel account on Gaza blast

Published October 18, 2023last updated October 19, 2023

US President Joe Biden has arrived in Israel for a complex diplomatic mission, coming as tensions run higher following a deadly hospital blast in Gaza. DW has the latest.

 Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu on stage
Biden and Netanyahu are holding talks at a heavily guarded Tel Aviv hotelImage: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/REUTERS
Skip next section What you need to know

What you need to know

  • US President Joe Biden has arrived in Israel where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
  • The visit follows a blast at a Gaza hospital, which the Hamas-run health ministry said killed at least 500
  • Biden told Netanyahu it appeared the blast was 'caused by the other team, not you'
  • German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has called for a probe into the blast
  • Biden said Egypt has agreed to let 20 aid trucks cross into Gaza
Skip next section Both sides violating international law in Israel-Hamas conflict, experts tell DW
October 19, 2023

Both sides violating international law in Israel-Hamas conflict, experts tell DW

A total siege of the Gaza Strip does not comply with international humanitarian law and could possibly amount to war crimes, two experts in international law told DW.

"The war is to be conducted according to certain rules... The belligerent parties have an obligation to minimize the damage to the civilian population," said Sergey Vasiliev, a professor of international criminal law at the University of Amsterdam. 

"Even though Israel may defend its civilians, this should also be done at all times in accordance with the laws of war," he added.

Tom Dannenbaum, an associate professor of international law at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told DW that there had "clearly been violations" of international law perpetrated by both sides.

He said that the siege of Gaza qualifies as "starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, which is a war crime itself."

The Hamas attack also "implicated a number of war crimes, including murder as a war crime, torture, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage taking," Dannenbaum added.

Both scholars also noted that international law applies to both parties to the conflict, and that the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on Palestinian territory, as well as any crimes committed by Palestinians on Israeli territory.

Skip next section UK Prime Minister Sunak to visit Israel on Thursday
October 18, 2023

UK Prime Minister Sunak to visit Israel on Thursday

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is set to arrive in Israel on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog before traveling on to other regional capitals, his office said.

Sunak will share his condolences for the loss of life in Israel and Gaza as a result of the October 7 attack on Israel by the Hamas terror group, his office said. He is also expected to warn against further escalation of conflict in the region.

"Every civilian death is a tragedy. And too many lives have been lost following Hamas' horrific act of terror," Sunak said in a statement ahead of his visit.

He said a deadly blast at a Gaza hospital on Tuesday which killed hundreds of Palestinians should be "a watershed moment for leaders in the region and across the world to come together to avoid further dangerous escalation of conflict," pledging Britain would be at "the forefront of this effort."

Alongside Sunak's visit, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who visited Israel last week, will travel to Egypt, Turkey and Qatar over the next three days to discuss the conflict and seek a peaceful resolution, his office said.

Skip next section Biden says Sissi has agreed to open Rafah crossing for 20 aid trucks
October 18, 2023

Biden says Sissi has agreed to open Rafah crossing for 20 aid trucks

US President Joe Biden said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi has agreed to
open the Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border with Gaza to allow about 20 trucks carrying humanitarian aid into the Palestinian enclave.

"Sissi deserves some real credit because he was accommodating," Biden told reporters after speaking with the Egyptian president from Air Force One on his way back to the US after a short trip to Israel.

Truckloads of aid have been waiting at Rafah crossing, Gaza's only connection to Egypt, for days.

Israel cut off water, medicine and food supplies to the enclave after Hamas carried out a deadly terror attack on Israel on October 7.

Biden wraps Tel Aviv talks with Gaza aid deal

Skip next section Difficult to draw conclusions over Gaza blast yet, experts tell DW
October 18, 2023

Difficult to draw conclusions over Gaza blast yet, experts tell DW

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) says an explosion at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza was caused by militant group Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and others.

IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner told DW's Gerhard Elfers there are "three core components" to the Israeli army's evidence for this claim.

"I can say that we mobilized intelligence capabilities, operational data and aerial footage of our own in order to confirm," he said.

However, military expert Marina Miron from the Department of Defense Studies at King's College in London told DW that it is difficult to say who is responsible for the hospital blast.

According to Miron, there is no way to tell who could have done it "unless we have more evidence, and that evidence would include an examination of the launch site."

Giancarlo Fiorella, Director for Research and Training at the Bellingcat Investigative Journalism Group, was also skeptical of drawing conclusions, telling DW that "at the moment we haven't found any conclusive evidence that can point the finger in one direction or another."

Who is responsible for the hospital explosion in Gaza?

Skip next section Turkey's Erdogan lambasts UN Security Council, calls hospital blast 'genocide'
October 18, 2023

Turkey's Erdogan lambasts UN Security Council, calls hospital blast 'genocide'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was highly critical of the failure of a UN Security Council resolution vetoed by the US concerning the conflict. 

"The United Nations Security Council, which has become even more ineffective, has once again not fulfilled its mandate," Erdogan wrote in a very lengthy social media post. 

"Western countries, which leave no stone unturned when it comes to human rights and freedoms, have taken no steps other than adding fuel to the fire," Erdogan alleged. 

He also said "biased and two-faced" media organizations had "entered a race to whitewash human slaughter." 

Erdogan had on Tuesday immediately blamed Israel for the al-Ahli hospital blast in Gaza City, alleging that the country's attacks were "devoid of the most basic human values."

In his post on Wednesday, he made no mention of who the perpetrators were. However, he also said nothing about the now-disputed source of the explosion and wrote about the incident immediately after listing what he termed Israeli atrocities, leaving readers with a clear indication still of where he was assigning blame. 

He said the attack "constitutes a crime against humanity and amounts to genocide against the people of Gaza." 

Typically, Turkey and Erdogan are extremely sensitive about the use of the word genocide, particularly when governments use it in reference to the systematic destruction of the Armenian people and identity in Anatolia during and also before World War I amid the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the founding of modern-day Turkey. 

Following in the footsteps of several European governments, including France and Germany, US President Joe Biden recognized the event as a genocide in 2021.

Skip next section Protests in West Bank, elsewhere, over hospital deaths
October 18, 2023

Protests in West Bank, elsewhere, over hospital deaths

People, holding flags and shouting slogans, gather for a protest against yesterday's bombing of Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, on October 18, 2023 in Ramallah, West Bank.
The streets of Ramallah were packed with largely peaceful protesters on Wednesday, although some also clashed with security forces in the West BankImage: Issam Rimawi/Anadolu/picture alliance

Mass protests erupted in several Arab and Muslim countries on Wednesday in response to the deadly explosion at a Gaza City hospital, for which Israel and Hamas traded allegations of responsibility. 

In the West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had declared a day of mourning, protesters were out in numbers in both Ramallah and Nablus. 

In Egypt, which German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was visiting on Wednesday, large crowds gathered in Giza and other cities.

Demonstrators wave Egyptian and Palestinian flags during a demonstration against Israel in Giza, following the explosion at the Ahli Arab Hospital in the Gaza Strip that killed hundreds of people. October 18, 2023.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi usually bans protests, but actively encouraged them this weekImage: dpa/picture alliance

President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, whose quasi-military government usually bans public protests, said during his press conference with Scholz that he would tell people to take to the streets and expected "millions" to protest. 

People in Jordan, one of the regional powers with formal diplomatic ties with Israel, gathered outside Israel's embassy. 

Protesters in Tunis gathered outside the French Embassy to Tunisia, saying they had chosen the site because of former colonial power France's "bias" towards Israel.

Tunis, Tunisia. 18 October 2023. A large protest in support of Gaza and the Palestinians takes place outside the French embassy headquarters in the Avenue Habib Bourguiba in Tunis.
Peope assembled near France's embassy in Tunis holding aloft a giant Palestinian flagImage: Hasan Mrad/IMAGESLIVE/ZUMA Press/picture alliance

Lebanese protesters also chose the French Embassy as the site for overnight protests soon after the news of the explosion. Later on Wednesday, protesters were sprayed with water cannons and tear gas near the US embassy in Beirut.

Libanon Beirut | Pro Palästina Demonstration
Lebanese demonstrators were among the first to mobilize overnight, soon after the blastImage: Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Hamas official Osama Hamadan on Wednesday appealed for global protests on Friday and Saturday, saying Muslims worldwide should show their discontent after Friday prayers.

Skip next section Biden appeals to Israel not to give in to 'rage' after Hamas attacks
October 18, 2023

Biden appeals to Israel not to give in to 'rage' after Hamas attacks

Visiting US President Joe Biden sought to appeal to Israel to exercise moderation during his visit to Tel Aviv on Wednesday. 

Although he spoke at length about Israel's right to self-defense and also cautiously sided with Israel's version of events regarding the explosion at a Gaza City hospital on Tuesday night, as well as promising a major new aid package, he also urged a degree of restraint. 

He spoke of the US "rage" following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US and mentioned how his government had "made mistakes" in its response. 

"You are a Jewish state, but you're also a democracy," Biden said after talks with Israeli leaders. "Like the United States, you don't live by the rules of terrorists. You live by the rule of law ... You can't give up what makes you who you are." 

He said most Palestinians were not affiliated with Hamas. "Palestinian people are suffering greatly as well." 

Biden also made reference to this issue on social media, saying, "I asked tough questions as a friend of Israel" during his visit. 

Skip next section Netanyahu's office says 'will not thwart' Gaza aid from Egypt
October 18, 2023

Netanyahu's office says 'will not thwart' Gaza aid from Egypt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said on Wednesday that limited humanitarian aid would be allowed into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

The decision was made following a request by visiting US President Joe Biden, Netanyahu's office said. 

The news was announced at almost the exact same time that the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have demanded aid be allowed into Gaza, among other things. 

The Israeli government said it "will not thwart" food, water and medicine deliveries, provided the supplies were not destined for Hamas. The statement did not mention fuel, which is also in extremely short supply. 

It was not clear when the aid would start flowing. Egypt's Rafah crossing, the only crossing point from Gaza that does not enter Israel, has only a limited capacity. President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said earlier on Wednesday that damage from Israeli airstrikes near the border was stopping a queue of laden trucks from crossing.

Israel has said it will not allow aid into Gaza from its territory, ruling out almost all available entry points.

It argues that much of the aid, even that nominally destined for civilian purposes, ultimately benefits Hamas — which it, the US, EU and others designate as a terrorist organization.

Skip next section US vetoes UN Security Council resolution on Gaza and aid
October 18, 2023

US vetoes UN Security Council resolution on Gaza and aid

The US has blocked a UN Security Council resolution — put forward by the current chair of the body, Brazil — concerning the flare-up in Israel and Gaza. 

Twelve members of the Council voted in favor, two abstained, and the US opposed it. The US is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council — all five must either support a motion or abstain in a vote for anything to pass.

The resolution would have condemned Hamas' October attack on Israel, as well as all violence against civilians on either side and urged humanitarian aid be allowed to enter Gaza. 

It also would have called for Israel to revoke its call to residents of Gaza to move south for their safety, following the line taken by the UN that this was practically "impossible" in the densely populated coastal area. 

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said after the vote that President Joe Biden was in Tel Aviv, "and we need that diplomacy to play out." She also criticized the resolution for failing to say anything explicit about Israel's right to self-defense. 

US Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield (front) attends the UN Security Council emergency meeting in New York, United State on October 18, 2023.
Thomas-Greenfield was the only member of the Security Council to oppose the proposal; Russia and Britain abstained, the other 12 members voted in favor Image: Fatih Aktas/Anadolu/picture alliance

However, at almost the same time as the vote at the UN, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that it would allow aid to cross the Rafah border crossing into Gaza after days of convoys waiting there. The statement came amid Biden's talks with Netanyahu.

Skip next section Egypt's president says letting Palestinians in would doom two-state solution
October 18, 2023

Egypt's president says letting Palestinians in would doom two-state solution

Egypt's president and former military coup leader, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, has again said he will not open the Rafah border crossing to Palestinians trying to flee Gaza. 

He was speaking as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Cairo following his trip to Tel Aviv on Tuesday. 

Sissi said opening the border crossing would set a precedent for Palestinians being driven out of the West Bank as well.

"The displacement of Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt means the same displacement will take place for Palestinians from the West Bank into Jordan," Sissi argued. 

"Subsequently, the Palestinian state that we are talking about and that the world is talking about will become impossible to implement — because the land is there, but the people are not," he said. 

Egypt is under pressure to help facilitate the movement of aid across its border to the south of Gaza. 

Sissi claimed Egypt "did not close" the crossing but said that "developments on the ground and the repeated bombings by Israel of the Palestinian side of the crossing have prevented its operation."

Hundreds of trucks have been waiting on the Egyptian side of the crossing for six days, hoping to be granted entry. 

Sissi, whose quasi-military government had banned almost all public protests in the past 10 years, said he would call on the Egyptian people to "come out and express their rejection" of the displacement of Palestinians from Gaza, "and you would see millions of Egyptians" in the street.

Skip next section In Cairo, Scholz says working to get aid into Gaza
October 18, 2023

In Cairo, Scholz says working to get aid into Gaza

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters during his visit to Cairo that the German and Egyptian governments were "working together to get humanitarian access to the Gaza Strip as quickly as possible." 

"We are not leaving the people alone," Scholz said during a press conference with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. "The federal government will continue its humanitarian efforts for Gaza to limit the suffering of the civilian population." 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi at a press conference in Cairo. October 18, 2023.
Though Scholz and Sissi tried to show a united front on some issues, clashes in their messages were also audibleImage: Michael Kappeler/dpa/picrture alliance

Scholz condemned "in the strongest terms" Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel. But he also said it was important that the "explosion" in the parking lot of a large Gaza City hospital needed to be "very precisely analyzed." 

Israeli and Palestinian officials are blaming each other for the explosion. 

"We mourn those who lost their lives," Scholz said. He also argued that "even this case makes clear" how Hamas' "terrible terrorist attack" on Israel had led to suffering not just for Israeli civilians "but also much suffering for the people in Gaza as a result." 

Both Sissi and Scholz also warned against the threat of a regional spillover or expansion of the conflict. Sissi called for "immediate international intervention" to put a stop to a "dangerous military escalation that may get out of control." 

Scholz explicitly warned Hezbollah in Lebanon and its backers Iran "once again not to intervene in this conflict," having made similar comments in Israel and before his departure.

Skip next section US sanctions 10 Hamas officials as Biden visits Israel
October 18, 2023

US sanctions 10 Hamas officials as Biden visits Israel

The US Treasury Department has announced new sanctions against 10 Hamas members, operatives and financial facilitators, including a key commander within the group. 

The sanctions target individuals based both in Gaza and elsewhere, including Sudan, Turkey, Algeria and Qatar. 

"The United States is taking swift and decisive action to target Hamas' financiers and facilitators following its brutal and unconscionable massacre of Israeli citizens, including children," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement. 

The announcement coincided with President Joe Biden's visit to Tel Aviv for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others. 

"The US Treasury has a long history of effectively disrupting terror finance, and we will not hesitate to use our tools against Hamas," Yellen said.

The Treasury said its targets included "a secret Hamas investment portfolio" involving a financial facilitator tied to Iran and a Gaza-based virtual cryptocurrency exchange

Skip next section Arab neighbors blame Israel for hospital blast
October 18, 2023

Arab neighbors blame Israel for hospital blast

Arab nations that have sought to normalize relations with Israel have blamed the country for a blast that killed an estimated 500 people at a Gaza hospital compound.

The Israeli military has denied responsibility, saying the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket from Islamist militants.

An Israeli Defense Force (IDF) military spokesperson claimed images showed there had been no structural damage to buildings around the Al-Ahli hospital and that there was no sign of craters consistent with an air strike.

People carry belongings near a burned out parking lot
Palestinians carry belongings as they leave al-Ahli hospital, which they were using as a shelterImage: Abed Khaled/AP Photo/picture alliance

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, which both established ties with Israel in the Abraham Accords of 2020, blamed Israel.

"The United Arab Emirates strongly condemns the Israeli attack... resulting in the death and injury of hundreds of people," the UAE's official news agency WAM said.

Bahrain's Foreign Ministry "expressed the Kingdom of Bahrain's condemnation and strong denunciation of the Israeli bombing."

Another country that recognized Israel in 2020, Morocco, also blamed Israel for the strike, as did Egypt, which was the first Arab country to normalize relations in 1979.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned in the strongest terms what he called "the Israeli bombing" of the Al-Ahli hospital, which led to "the deaths of hundreds of innocent victims" among the Palestinian citizens in Gaza.

He called the "deliberate bombing" a "clear violation of international law."

The blast came during a wave of deadly Israeli air strikes on Gaza after terror attacks by the Palestinian militant group Hamas on Israel earlier this month killed 1,400 people.

Saudi Arabia, which has suspended talks on building ties with Israel since the conflict flared, called the blast a "heinous crime committed by the Israeli occupation forces."

Jordan said Israel "bears responsibility for this grave incident." 

Qatar, which has close ties to Hamas, slammed the blast as a "brutal massacre."

Skip next section EU officials condemn hospital destruction
October 18, 2023

EU officials condemn hospital destruction

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also called for a comprehensive investigation.

"There is no excuse for hitting a hospital full of medical staff and civilians," she posted.

"All the facts have to be established and those responsible must be held accountable."

Hamas, which rules in the Gaza Strip, says more than 500 people were killed at the Al Ahli hospital on Tuesday evening and blames Israel for the attack. Israel says a misfired rocket from the "Islamic Jihad" militant group caused the explosion.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said that, even in a conflict, there were rules that should be followed.

"This bomb explosion in the hospital, which we don't yet know to whom it should be attributed, is another terrible manifestation of what goes on," said EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

"War has to be carried out in line with international rules," he warned. "Wars also have rules."

European Parliament President Roberta Metsola echoed those sentiments. 

"The devastation of a hospital is horrific and unjustifiable, and we must ensure we continue to shed light on what happened," Metsola said.

Wreckage seen through a window in Gaza
The area around the destroyed Al-Ahli hospital seen Wednesday morning Image: Ali Jadallah/Anadolu/picture alliance
Skip next section Germany says several of its citizens killed in Hamas attacks
October 18, 2023

Germany says several of its citizens killed in Hamas attacks

A foreign ministry spokesperson in Berlin said that "according to our knowledge, we unfortunately have to assume that there is a single-digit number of German citizens who have fallen victim to Hamas terror."

He stressed that individual deaths would only be confirmed once victims' relatives had been notified.

When it came to the fate of Germans abducted by Hamas to the Gaza Strip, the spokesperson said the German government was "of course in close contact with the Israeli authorities." 

"We are, of course, now using all communication channels ... to influence actors in the region and ultimately, indirectly, Hamas," he said.

Israel believes the radical Islamic group Hamas kidnapped almost 200 people, including numerous foreigners, during its devastating terror attack on Israel on October 7. 

The German Foreign Office said it knew of eight cases that involved Germans, although cases can include several family members. Those affected usually have dual citizenship.

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