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Middle East on knife edge as protests erupt, Biden trip in chaos

The Middle East is on a knife edge, with angry protests erupting in cities across the region after an estimated 500 Palestinians were killed in the bombing of a hospital in Gaza.

Israel and Hamas have blamed each other for the deadly rocket strike, and Israel was on Wednesday (AEDT) claiming it would release “proof” that the blast was not its fault.

Israel’s Defence Forces posted a video on social media which it said showed a rocket that was fired towards Israel “misfiring” and landing in Gaza.

Israel’s military has attributed the bombing to a failed rocket launch by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group.

But Palestinian authorities said an Israeli air strike caused the blast in the compound where patients were being treated and displaced Palestinians sheltered.

As the blame game continued, outraged pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets in Lebanon, Jordan, Iran and Turkey among other nations in reaction to the deaths.

The US Embassy in Beirut was reportedly surrounded by hundreds of protesters scuffling with security in a violent clash.

Demonstrators set fire to a building at the entrance to the embassy belonging to the Lebanese security forces.

In Amman, Jordan, a crowd of angry Palestinian supporters were trying to enter the Israeli Embassy.

Protesters in Lebanon outside the US Embassy in the capital Beirut. Photo: Getty

The incident has also thrown US President Joe Biden’s trip into chaos.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas quickly cancelled a planned meeting with Biden.

Then Jordan’s King Abdullah cancelled a summit that was supposed to bring Biden together with Egyptian and Palestinian leaders.

Biden’s visit to Israel was to show support for the country in its war against Hamas after the militants launched a surprise attack nearly two weeks ago, killing 1400 people in Israel.

He was supposed to touch down in Tel Aviv and Jordan during the one-day trip, but will now only visit Israel, the White House announced.

Leaders around the world condemned the loss of civilian lives.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the scenes from the explosion of the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital were “deeply distressing”.

“Every innocent life matters, that’s whether it is Israeli or Palestinian.”

“We condemn any indiscriminate attacks and targeting of civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.”

The deadly hit on Wednesday morning (AEDT) was the bloodiest single incident in Gaza since Israel launched an unrelenting bombing campaign on October 7.

Before the blast, health authorities in Gaza said at least 3000 people had died in Israel’s 11-day bombardment.

Hamas said the bombing mostly killed people left homeless by Israel bombardments, and that the dead included patients, women and children.

“There are scores of dismembered and crushed bodies, baths of blood,” said Izzat El-Reshiq, a senior Hamas member.

The Palestinian Authority health minister, Mai Alkaila, accused Israel of a massacre. A Gaza civil defence chief said 300 people were killed and a health ministry official said 500 were killed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu minced no words in blaming Palestinian militants for the explosion.

“The entire world should know: It was barbaric terrorists in Gaza that attacked the hospital in Gaza, and not the IDF,” he said, referring to the Israel Defence Forces. “Those who brutally murdered our children also murder their own children.”

The IDF blamed a Palestinian militant group called Palestine Islamic Jihad which, like Hamas, is viewed by the US as a foreign terrorist organisation.

“Following an additional review and cross-examination of the operational and intelligence systems, it is clear that the IDF did not strike the hospital in Gaza,” IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in a video statement.

“The hospital was hit as a result of a failed rocket launched by the Islamic Jihad terrorist organisation.”

In Washington, the Pentagon said it was aware of the reports about the hospital being hit but had no details.

Demonstrators in Amman, Jordan, try to enter the Israeli Embassy. Photo: Getty

Biden left Washington on Tuesday (local time) on what was supposed to be a complex diplomatic mission, aimed at showing support for long-time US ally Israel, calming the region and shoring up humanitarian efforts for Gaza.

It was unclear what he could accomplish in the wake of the hospital strike, conflicting reports about responsibility, and the cancellation of the summit in Jordan.

“This sort of murky but horrific event makes diplomacy harder and increases escalation risks,” said Richard Gowan, UN director at International Crisis Group.

“Biden’s visit was meant to underline that the US has a grip on the situation. A tragic incident like this shows how hard it is to keep the war in check.”

Biden was originally expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, then fly to Amman, to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Abbas.

Failure to meet with Abbas or any Palestinian official, while meeting Israelis on their soil, may undermine Biden’s diplomatic message and draw critics at home and abroad. The US is leaning heavily on Egypt to help with humanitarian efforts.

After the hospital blast, Biden’s efforts to date in the Israel-Hamas war were criticised by US Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American in Congress.

Tlaib, a Democrat who had previously been muted in her criticism of Biden’s policy, said in a post on social media platform X: “This is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate. Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many Palestinian Americans and Muslims Americans like me.”

More than 70 religious and activist groups, led by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest US Muslim civil rights group, called on Biden to demand a ceasefire in Gaza during his visit.

-with AAP

Topics: Gaza, Israel
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