Al-Ahli is the only Christian hospital in Gaza city. Media and governments blamed Israel for the attack but images and intelligence by the IDF points to a failed rocket fired from Gaza.
(Updated 18 October 2023 14:00 CET)
Hundreds of civilians have been killed after the Al-Ahli hospital was hit on the night of 17 October, Palestians in Gaza have said. The health centre served as a refuge for dozens as it was not considered to be a military target.
Run by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem (Anglican Communion), it is “the only Christian hospital in Gaza”, according to Jenny Taylor, a researcher specialised in religious literacy.
In a statement after the attack, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem “condemned in the strongest terms” the “atrocious attack”. “The devastation witnessed, coupled with the sacrilegious targeting of the church, strikes at the very heart of human decency”, the text said.
The Episcopal Church in Jerusalem decreed 3 days of mourning in all their churches and institutions. A 30-minute press conference offered by the leadership of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem on 18 October afternoon, Archishop Hosam Naoum said he had no specific figures of victims killed in the hospital. He first learned about the blast as he was participating in a inter-confessional prayer gathering for peace and reconciliation in Jerusalem.
Asked about who was behind the attack, Hosam Naoum said: “We are not military experts”, adding that “what we know is that the hospital is a sanctuary, what has happened is a crime, a massacre”.
[photo_footer] Press conference on 18 october of the Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem, Hosam Naoum, with the presence of other faith leaders in the city.
He also mentioned several times that after a previous attack nearby the hospital that caused injuries, Israeli military forces asked the hospital three times to evacuate. But these messages did not include threats of an attack against the hospital, he clarified.
Of the over 20 hospitals in the Gaza Strip, the Al-Ahli Hospital (which in Arab means “The People’s hospital”) was the first such medical institution in the region. It started operating in 1882 thanks to an initiative of the Church of England.
The “Baptist” reference in its name, as mentioned by several media in the last hours, comes from the fact that the hospital was run by the Southern Baptist Convention (of the US) for three decades (1954-1982).
The Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican Communion, Justin Welby, spoke of an “appalling and devastating loss of innocent lives”. He added: “The Ahli hospital is run by the Anglican church. I mourn with our brothers and sisters - please pray for them”.
This is an appalling and devastating loss of innocent lives.
The Ahli hospital is run by the Anglican church. I mourn with our brothers and sisters - please pray for them.
I renew my appeal for civilians to be protected in this devastating war.
May the Lord God have mercy. https://t.co/47Jl1X5pf2
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) October 17, 2023
This could be one of the worst incidents so far in the Israel-Gaza war, which started on 7 October with the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
Images shared in the media seemed to show that the parking of the hospital was hit by a projectile.
At the time of writing this story, it has not yet been possible to verify who authored the attack.
After the blast, Hamas said it was an Israeli attack, but the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) assures that intelligence intercepted communications between Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ, a jihadist group funded by Iran and operating under the authority of Hamas) commenting on a “failed rocket” launch that could have hit the hospital.
The European Union has demanded an in-depth independent investigation.
Shortly after the blast, several governments across the world condemned Israel for the attack. Hezbollah, an Islamist militia in the south Lebanon, called on 18 October for a “day of rage without precedents” on a global level.
Embassies of Israel and the United States in cities like Istanbul (Turkey) and Beirut (Lebanon) were attacked in the hours after the attack.
In Europe, governments have raised the anti-terror alert after an Islamist killed two Swedish citizens in Belgium.
On midday of Thursday, France evacuated 6 airports due to bomb threats.
Also on 18 October, US President Joe Biden arrived in Israel and was met on the airport by Israeli President Benajmin Netanyahu. A meeting planned with Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian leader in the West Bank (the other Palestinian territory), was cancelled. A summit of Biden with the leaders of Jordan and Egypt was also called off by the Arab leaders. “This war and this aggression are pushing the region to the brink”, the Jordan Foreign minister said.