Biden Pledges Solidarity With Israelis, Suggests ‘Other Team’ To Blame For Gaza Hospital Blast

(AP) — President Joe Biden vowed to show the world that the United States stands in solidarity with Israel during his visit there Wednesday, and offered an assessment that the deadly explosion at a Gaza Strip hospital that prompted mass protests in Arab nations apparently was not carried out by the Israeli military.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting. But he said there were “a lot of people out there” who weren’t sure what caused the blast, which sparked protests throughout the Middle East.

Biden later said he based his conclusion on “the data I was shown by my Defence Department.”

Israel said Wednesday its radar as well as independent video showed a rocket in a barrage fired by Palestinian militants misfired and caused a large explosion just as the blast hit the hospital. It said there was no crater, which would have been present with an airstrike, and it released a recording it said was between two Hamas militants who said the blast was believed to be an Islamic Jihad misfire.

Islamic Jihad dismissed Israel’s claims, pointing to Israel’s order that the hospital be evacuated in recent days and reports of a previous strike at the hospital that wounded four people as proof that it was an Israeli target.

Biden had also been scheduled to visit Jordan to meet with Arab leaders 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.

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.”

Biden’s overarching message was that the US was firmly behind Israel following the Hamas attack on October 7 that killed 1,400 people.

“I want you to know you’re not alone. We will continue to have Israel’s back as you work to defend your people,” Biden said. “We’ll continue to work with you and partners across the region to prevent more tragedy to innocent civilians.”

Netanyahu again said Israel was not to blame for the hospital attack. “The entire world was rightfully outraged, but this outrage should be directed not at Israel but at the terrorists,” Netanyahu said during a subsequent meeting with Biden and Israel’s war cabinet.

He called the president’s visit “deeply, deeply moving,” adding, “I know I speak for all the people of Israel when I say thank you Mr. President, thank you for standing with Israel today, tomorrow and always.”

Netanyahu said Biden had rightly drawn a clear line between the “forces of civilisation and the forces of barbarism,” saying Israel was united in its resolve to defeat Hamas.

“The civilised world must unite to defeat Hamas,” he said.

Biden also planned to meet Israeli first responders and the families of victims and those being held hostage by Hamas.

The grim tone of Wednesday’s meetings between Biden and Netanyahu stood in stark contrast to their optimistic meeting just a month ago on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, where Netanyahu marvelled that a “historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia” seemed within reach.

The possibility of improved relations between Israel and its Arab neighbours has dimmed considerably with the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. Israel has been preparing for a potential ground invasion of Gaza in response to Hamas’ attacks.