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Arab leaders cancel meeting with Biden following Hamas claims of Gaza hospital blast

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden | BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

Arab leaders scrapped a planned meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden Wednesday after Hamas claimed that a hospital in Gaza was struck by an Israeli airstrike, resulting in hundreds of deaths. U.S. officials said on Wednesday, however, that the blast in the hospital complex parking lot was not caused by Israel, but by a jihadist group within Gaza. 

The scheduled gathering was to include Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. However, the White House said Tuesday night the meeting was postponed less than 24 hours after it was announced. 

"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," a White House official said in a statement shared with the media. 

"The president sent his deepest condolences for the innocent lives lost in the hospital explosion in Gaza, and wished a speedy recovery to the wounded. He looks forward to consulting in person with these leaders soon, and agreed to remain regularly and directly engaged with each of them over the coming days."

While Hamas initially blamed Israeli airstrikes for the explosion at the Anglican-run al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, Israel released intelligence showing the explosion was caused by an "errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza."

“According to intelligence information from a number of sources we have, Islamic Jihad terrorist organization is responsible for the failed rocket launch that hit the hospital," the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement. 

IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Wednesday at a news conference no Israeli air, ground or naval attacks were in the area at the time of the blast.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement Wednesday that Israel was "not responsible" for the explosion. She said the assessment was based on several factors, including data from "overhead imagery, intercepts, and open source information." 

Biden expressed his sorrow for the disaster.

“The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict, and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy,” Biden said in a statement. 

Biden was set to visit Jordan as a part of this Middle Eastern tour and "reiterate that Hamas does not stand for the Palestinian people’s right to dignity and self-determination and discuss the humanitarian needs of civilians in Gaza."

Since the explosion, protests have erupted across the Middle East. 

The hospital, al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, was packed with wounded individuals and those seeking refuge, The Associated Press reports, describing the scene as gruesome, with the area around the hospital littered with bodies, many of them children.

Videos verified by AP showed fire engulfing the hospital and the surrounding grounds.

Amid the escalation, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi stated that the planned summit would only occur when all involved agreed that its purpose would be to “stop the war, respect the humanity of the Palestinians and deliver the aid they deserve,” according to The Jerusalem Post.

Before the tragedy at al-Ahli Hospital, Israeli airstrikes had resulted in at least 2,778 deaths and 9,700 injuries in Gaza, according to figures by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.  

In Israel, more than 1,400 civilians have been killed, including 30 Americans, primarily due to Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7 targeting civilians in southern Israeli communities near the border with Gaza. Over 3,400 people in Israel were wounded and 199 were taken hostage by Hamas, including Americans. 

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