Hundreds likely dead in Gaza hospital blast, Israeli blockade cripples medical response

(CNN) - Palestinian officials say hundreds are likely dead after a deadly blast hit a Gaza hospital on Tuesday, as humanitarian concerns mount over Israel’s deprivation of food, fuel and electricity to the enclave’s population.

Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital was sheltering thousands of displaced people when it was bombed Tuesday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said in a statement. Many victims are still under the rubble, it added.

Palestinian officials blamed ongoing Israeli airstrikes for the lethal incident. But the Israel Defense Forces denied any involvement in the hospital attack, blaming instead a “failed rocket launch” by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group.

“Intelligence from multiple sources we have in our hands indicates that Islamic Jihad is responsible for the failed rocket launch which hit the hospital in Gaza,” the IDF posted to its Telegram account.

Gaza has been under siege by Israel for more than a week, in response to the deadly incursion by Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the coastal enclave, home to 2.2 million people. Hospitals meanwhile are struggling to tend to the wounded across the territory, operating with shortages of electricity and water.

Amid growing international pressure to address the crisis, U.S. President Joe Biden will travel to Israel on Wednesday, an extraordinary wartime visit that follows intense efforts by Secretary of State Antony Blinken across the Middle East.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a planned meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden after the hospital attack, saying he would instead travel back to Ramallah for an urgent meeting of the Palestinian leadership.

Vital humanitarian aid is meanwhile piling up at Gaza’s shuttered border, despite diplomatic efforts to open a corridor from Egypt. The United Nations and other officials have said they need assurance of safe passage for any potential aid convoys.

Israeli and U.S. officials on Tuesday said humanitarian aid would be allowed into southern Gaza, but Israel’s national security adviser warned it would be stopped if Hamas intervened. “Intense discussions” are still underway regarding the movement of aid, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said the only things that should be entering Gaza “are hundreds of tons of explosives from the Air Force, not an ounce of humanitarian aid” until Hamas releases hostages, he wrote on Telegram.

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