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Morning news brief

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Israeli and Palestinian authorities are trading blame over just who is responsible for the strike that killed hundreds at a hospital in Gaza.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

That's right. Doctors there tell NPR they are still uncovering more bodies this morning. The incident has also led to massive protests across much of the Arab world.

MARTIN: Joining us now with the latest is NPR's Ruth Sherlock from Tel Aviv. And I'm going to let you know that from what I understand, some of the details will be very disturbing for some to hear. Ruth, that being said, what are you hearing about this attack?

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Good morning. Well, yeah, this was a massive explosion at the Baptist Al-Ahli Hospital. It's a Christian hospital and one of the oldest in Gaza. I reached Dr. Fadel Naim. So he's the orthopedic - the head of the orthopedic unit there. And he's still there because he says that there are injured patients that still need to be evacuated. He was in the operating room when he heard this huge explosion and people flooded in, wounded. It's a bad phone line, but he tells me he ran outside and found the area full of injured and dead.

FADEL NAIM: The injured and dead people - we try to help what we can, who we can help. Some of them died in our hands.

SHERLOCK: He said some people died in his hands. Many had lost limbs, and the doctors were using whatever they had on them - bandages, their clothes - to try to stop the bleeding. And like you said, you know, we don't know the full death toll, but it seems in the many hundreds. Dr. Naim says they're still finding new dead, including bodies flung in the force of the blast onto the roof of the hospital.

NAIM: Minutes ago, we found one baby on the roof of the hospital.

SHERLOCK: A baby?

NAIM: Yeah. Many babies died yesterday. Many dead.

SHERLOCK: So Naim says the strike on the hospital hit this inner courtyard that had become an area that was also housing hundreds of people that have been displaced by the wider fighting in Gaza. It was full of families, he said, many children. He says, with this being a hospital, and a Christian one at that, people believed that it was maybe the safest place in Gaza.

MARTIN: Ruth, what do we know about just who is responsible for this?

SHERLOCK: Well, you know, like you said, both sides are trading blame. Israel says it was the result of a failed rocket launch by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Israeli Defense Forces are putting out some footage and a recording they claim is a conversation between a Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad official allegedly talking about the misfire. But I should say, you know, really clearly NPR can not independently verify any of this. And we do know from past wars that there have been Palestinian rockets that have fallen short inside Gaza. But at the very same time, you know, this hospital said just a few days ago that it was hit by Israeli rocket fire just a few days ago. And this is all happening amid intense fighting. You know, there's 3,000 Palestinian people killed, according to the Ministry of Health, 1,000 of those kids. Ten thousand people have been wounded.

MARTIN: So, Ruth, I mean, and of course, you've been reporting on - you, among others, have been reporting on just the humanitarian situation there before this attack. So I can only imagine that this terrible incident is just adding even more pressure to the humanitarian needs there.

SHERLOCK: Right. One of the head of the main hospital says that - you know, Al-Shifa says they're going to run out of fuel today. Taps are also running dry in Gaza because there's no fuel for desalination plants. People are struggling to find drinking water. Much of the population is fleeing south but with nowhere to go. The border with Egypt is still closed. And Gazans I speak with say at this point nowhere feels safe.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ruth Sherlock. Ruth, thank you so much.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Ruth is in Tel Aviv, and President Biden has just landed there. And this comes as protests against Israel's actions spread across the Middle East.

MARTÍNEZ: The protests were sparked by a deadly explosion at a hospital in Gaza. He had to call off a visit to Jordan, and his message in Tel Aviv will be much more about safeguarding civilians in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: The world is looking. We - Israel has a value set like the United States does and other democracies. And they're looking to see what we're going to do.

MARTIN: NPR's Michele Kelemen is with us now from Amman, Jordan, to talk about the trip. She's been traveling with Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Michele, good morning.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Good morning, Michel.

MARTIN: So what is the U.S. saying about that explosion?

KELEMEN: Well, President Biden said he's deeply saddened by the death toll. But he said that judging from what he's seen - and these were his words - it was done by the other team, not you. He said that while he was sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As you heard from Ruth, Israeli officials say that this was a rocket launched by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The Palestinians say it was an Israeli air strike, and they're demanding an end to the Israeli bombardment. You also have the U.N. condemning this attack and calling for a humanitarian pause. Up to now, the U.S. has not pushed for a cease-fire. U.S. officials say Israel has the right to go after Hamas after that unprecedented attack a week and a half ago. Netanyahu called the attack pure evil and said the world should unite behind Israel to defeat Hamas.

MARTIN: Now, not to minimize in any way the atrocities committed, you know, by Hamas in southern Israel a week and a half ago, but the situation inside Gaza is indeed terrible. What is President Biden and other Western leaders saying about that or trying to do about that?

KELEMEN: Yeah. Secretary Blinken has been in the region, and in the run-up to this visit to Israel, he's been trying to negotiate a deal with Israelis to allow aid into Gaza and to set up safe areas for civilians. There's a lot of pressure now on the U.S. and Israel to make that a reality. But remember, Gaza is a tiny territory with 2 million Palestinians, and there's really nowhere safe to go, as we've been hearing in our reports. Most people don't have access to water or electricity. They're desperate for help. Israel has been blocking aid, fearing that it will be stolen by Hamas or benefit Hamas, which, by the way, is still holding nearly 200 Israeli hostages, including some Americans. And that, Michel, is adding just another layer of complexity to all of this.

MARTIN: As I mentioned that you are in Jordan, which has been a very close Arab ally of the United States. What are you hearing there, and what are the other Arab states saying about this conflict?

KELEMEN: Well, Egypt's president told Secretary Blinken a few days ago that he thinks Israel has exceeded its right to self-defense, that this is now looking like collective punishment against the Palestinian people. He was due to come here to Jordan to meet with President Biden, along with Jordan's King Abdullah and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That summit has now been called off because of the explosion at the hospital. Abbas, who has a house here in Jordan, returned to Ramallah in the West Bank, where there have been protests against him and against the Israeli campaign in Gaza. Things are really, really tense now.

MARTIN: What does President Biden think he can accomplish there?

KELEMEN: He's really trying to contain this conflict. But there are a lot of concerns about the violence spreading, not only concerns about Hezbollah in Lebanon to the north of Israel, but also about these growing protests in the region.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Michele Kelemen. She's traveling with the secretary - the U.S. secretary of state, and she's in Amman, Jordan. Michele, thank you.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

MARTIN: As Michele just mentioned, the bombing of the hospital in Gaza has sparked fury across the Arab world.

(SOUNDBITE OF PEOPLE SHOUTING)

MARTÍNEZ: In Amman, Jordan, security forces tear-gassed protesters trying to reach the Israeli embassy.

MARTIN: And that is where we have NPR's Jane Arraf. Jane, good morning to you.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: You were at the protest. Can you tell us what you saw?

ARRAF: Sure. When I got there, people were leaving because security forces were pushing them out. But there were still about a thousand people, most of them young men, wearing Palestinian flags. The tear gas was hanging in the air, and ambulances were coming and going. The riot police had kept the protesters away from the embassy, which is, as you would imagine, heavily fortified, but not before some of them set fire to some tires nearby. Now, protests here aren't unusual. The majority of Jordanians are originally Palestinian. Their families were forced from their homes in the West Bank during the wars with Israel. And among East Bank Jordanians, there's a strong affinity for the Palestinian cause. But this protest felt different. I spoke to one of the protesters, Omar, 22-year-old engineering student, who told me why he had come.

OMAR: It doesn't mean anything. He just came here to witness the genocide of Palestine.

ARRAF: There, he's talking about what he thought Biden would accomplish if he came here. But he also said that he was spurred to come because he saw the bombing of the hospital in Gaza on TV, which is a big reason a lot of them came. Another young man told me he and his friends came because the world had forgotten about Palestinians. And that's a key part of the anger here. There are millions of Palestinian refugees who have languished for decades, and there's a feeling that it can't go on like this.

MARTIN: How is the government of Jordan responding?

ARRAF: Well, they're deeply worried, as you saw with the cancellation of the summit with President Biden. And here's what they're worried about, mostly. It's that having taken in waves of refugees from Palestine and other places, they fear that more Palestinian refugees could be pushed into Jordan because there has been an Israeli thought that perhaps Jordan is the alternate Palestine, which, of course, Jordan rejects and Palestinians reject. Egypt has much the same fears, by the way. It fears that Palestinians from Gaza would be pushed into Egypt. And that's basically the bottom line. So what you have are people who are trapped with nowhere to go, and countries that want to help them but can't take any more of them. They also don't want to see Palestinians giving up their land. That would make even harder - make it even harder for them to come back. And I think we also need to say that both Egypt and Jordan, like a lot of countries in the region, they're having tough times to begin with - severe economic hardship, widespread discontent.

MARTIN: What about elsewhere in the Arab world?

ARRAF: Well, in Ramallah, as we heard, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, returned to be greeted by hundreds of protesters. And it's a sign that although the catalyst for the protests last night were what's happening in Gaza and the hospital bombing, there's also a vein of all sorts of other resentments, this one lack of leadership, and people are using the opportunity to come out and show their anger.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Jane Arraf. Jane, thank you so much.

ARRAF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.